Battening Down the Hatches

DEJU 10-29-17-6908

Dark-Eyed Junco

The cold is upon us. The possibility of winter seems suddenly everywhere. I wrote those two sentences two days ago, hoping I would want to change them, but we are heading into freezing temperatures overnight, so I may as well say “stet.”

Very busy at work, no weekday birding, and the weekends have been either rained out or too preoccupied as well. So here are a few pictures from a little time spent in the backyard the last couple weekends. Likely I will continue to see most of these birds, but the backdrop has already started changing.

I decided to not ignore the House Sparrows just because there are so many of them. Whether hanging out with a Mourning Dove above, or preening, hanging out at the bird bath, or eating peanuts below, House Sparrows, however ubiquitous, can be charming in their own right.

Preening HOSP 10-29-17-6819HOSP 10-29-17-6944HOSP 10-29-17-6979House Sparrows are also capable of aerial feats.

My last sighting of a White-Crowned Sparrow below was on my neighbor’s fence two weekends ago. Also had a visiting American Goldfinch.

The last bit of color in the yard before the leaves began turning was from the sedum in the pictures below.

And I had a short visit from what looks like a brand new male Downy Woodpecker.

DOWP 10-29-17-6863The Common Milkweed proved to be very good for Milkweed Beetles.

My last butterfly was a Painted Lady. I won’t see them again until next summer. But the squirrels and the Northern Cardinals aren’t going anywhere.

Painted Lady Butterfly 10-21-17-6782Squirrel 10-29-17-6984

NOCA 10-29-17-7050NOCA 10-21-17-6800This Dark-Eyed Junco was very comfortable and happy in the yard that last sunny weekend day. I’ve never seen a Junco try to eat peanuts before. Impressive.

I will be busy these next few days getting ready to go on what will likely be my last international trip for a while. I’m going back to Ecuador over the Thanksgiving holiday week. So I may not be able to manage another post before I leave.

Painted Lady Butterfly 10-21-17-6765If you are in  celebrating Thanksgiving, or wherever you are, my best wishes for days filled with peace and love.

Winding Down

BTGW 10-22-2017-0059

Black-Throated Green Warbler

Last Sunday morning was my only chance to get out. Rain was predicted but luckily did not start until I left the Chicago Portage. Conditions became ever cloudier which affected everything photographic, but now I am looking back on what was then warmer weather with increasing nostalgia.

I had stepped off the trail to get a better look at something and while I was standing there, a beautiful Black-Throated Green Warbler popped up in front of me. In that moment I was thankful I didn’t have my most humongous lens which might have scared him off.

Below is how the Portage looked last Sunday morning.

Portage 10-22-2017-0066After the Black-Throated Green left, this Swamp Sparrow occupied the same spot for a moment.

SWSP 10-22-2017-9878The Black-Throated Green was unusually late for this location, so he earned a citation on the rare bird alert. But the rest of the birds were pretty predictable, like these three Mallards enjoying the open water.

MALL 10-22-2017-9940A Red-Tailed Hawk made a couple backlit appearances… If you click on the images you can see more detail.

I followed the large white rump patch of this Northern Flicker in flight until it landed far across the pond.

Below, two birds that herald various stages of the approach toward winter…a Dark-Eyed Junco, a snow bird, and likely the last Yellow-Rumped Warbler until spring.

The other likely late-ish warbler is the Palm Warbler below.

PAWA 10-22-2017-9951And where the preserves were crowded with kinglets the previous week, I now saw only one, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, below.

RCKI 10-22-2017-0116On the home front, after a short sprinkle but before ensuing downpours, my yard was full of House Sparrows.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0359But I did still have a couple White-Crowned Sparrows who now rely on me to put out some partially chewed-up spray millet sprigs in the compost.

WCSP 10-22-17-0383WCSP 10-12-2017-0374Hanging out with the House Sparrows by the back fence was a Northern Cardinal.

NOCA 10-22-17-0417Busy 10-22-17-0409A few House Finches managed to forage on the ground.

After weeks of preparation, I jointed the Unity Temple choir in our “Best of Unity Temple Choir” concert last night. We sang for nearly two hours. I feel we did well, at least if the audience response is any indicator. It was exhausting fun.

It’s still hard to believe that the milestone has passed, however. Without much time to reflect, I am moving onward to the next challenge, which will be at work tomorrow morning. I leave you with a contented-looking House Sparrow.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0354

Singing Spring Sparrows

WCSP 5-7-17-7817Virtually every morning I go out to fill the bird feeders in my backyard before I leave for work, and I have been hearing White-Crowned and White-Throated Sparrows singing for weeks, but I never see them. Looking out the windows I am used to see them foraging around on the ground, but this has not happened. So yesterday afternoon, which was absolutely gorgeous and sunlit, when I went out to sit and dig up the patch of pigwort that has invaded one section of the yard, I took the camera with me, just in case.

WCSP 5-7-17-7820I was rewarded with the presence of three White-Crowned Sparrows and two White-Throated Sparrows. The White-Throateds showed up first, digging around at the bottom of the compost pile and then sometimes in it. They didn’t stay very long, however.

Eventually I noticed something interesting: one White-Crowned Sparrow was nibbling on a piece of spray millet that I had just recently added to the compost bin. I realized some time last week that I have been throwing out chewed-up spray millet every day with the cage papers and waste from my indoor birds, which means it’s been going needlessly to the landfill. It never occurred to me that someone might find the uneaten portions of this delightful treat irresistible.

The other attraction seemed to be little leftover bits of shelled peanuts. The squirrels probably get the majority of them but the birds have been onto this use of the tree stump for a while. I keep hoping for crows but I’ll take White-Crowned Sparrows anytime.

In case you’re wondering what the back view of a White-Crowned Sparrow looks like, here’s one shot from under the feeder pole.

WCSP 5-7-17-7809The weather is still unseasonably cool but that’s nothing for the sparrows. I’m hoping they’ll stick around maybe for another week so I can continue to hear their beautiful songs. Yesterday as I had to go back into the house to resume indoor duties, I was treated to a little late-afternoon/early evening chorus I wish I had been able to record. One White-Throated Sparrow started out singing in B-flat, then a mourning dove joined in, in the same key, and then a House Finch started carrying on with his busy song. No people noise interrupted their singing. This was likely a one-time experience I’ll have to keep in my head, but it will remind me to take the recorder with me next time.

WCSP 5-7-17-7762WCSP 5-7-17-7818

Where Have All The Birds Gone?

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, scaling a building wall next to 155 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago

I could just as easily re-title this post to “Where Has All The Time Gone?” since I’m still trying to make adjustments to my ever-changing schedule. But this will be a brief tribute to some of the birds I have seen passing through downtown Chicago a few weeks ago. (There will be still more photographs from the rest of the month in a future post.)

The following warblers were present at Lake Shore East Park on September 28. This was probably the last “peak” of warbler migration along the lakefront.

AMRE 9-28-15-3081

American Redstart

BLPW 9-28-15-2934

Blackpoll Warbler

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Tennessee Warbler

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Magnolia Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warblers tend to come through and hang around a bit later, so I was not surprised to see this one the following week.

YLWA LSE Park 10-06-15 -3521

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, October 6, 2015

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

But I was surprised to find the Connecticut Warbler below poking around in the grass as I was walking through Millennium Park on my way to Lake Shore East. There wasn’t much light and the bird was under some trees so this was the best I could do with the photograph.

COWA Millennium Park 10-05-15 -3296

Connecticut Warbler, Millennium Park, October 5, 2015

I have seen only a few White-Crowned Sparrows this fall, like the one below which popped out at 100 N. Riverside Plaza.

WCSP 10-2-15 (1 of 1)

White-Crowned Sparrow, October 2, 2015

I think the White-Throated Sparrow below was also from this new location. I will have more pictures and more to say about this newly discovered green space area along the Chicago River in a future post.

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White-Throated Sparrow, October 5, 2015

There have been a lot of Brown Creepers this fall migration.

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Brown Creeper, Lake Shore East Park, October 6, 2015

And Ruby-Crowned Kinglets…

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015

For a couple weeks, almost, the most ubiquitous bird seemed to be Hermit Thrushes. I am still seeing an individual here and there.

HETH LSE Park 10-07-15 -3954

Hermit Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are now all gone.

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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, October 6, 2015

At first I thought the bird below was yet another Hermit Thrush but on closer inspection I have decided it’s probably a Gray-Cheeked Thrush. Light can be tricky, but the heavy spotting on the breast and the darker flanks give him away almost more than his facial pattern.

HETH 9-28-15-2951

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, September 28, 2015

And for the longer view, here he is again sharing tree space with a shy Lincoln’s Sparrow.

GCTH and LISP LSE Park 9-28-15 -2964

So the warblers are all gone until spring. I did have a late Black-Throated Green Warbler on October 22nd which I posted on my flickr page before I realized I could now just upload it directly into ebird. It was my last “rare bird” sighting.

Below is another picture of the beautiful Blackpoll Warbler from September 28.

BPWA LSE Park 9-28-15 -3013I have more posts in mind and am just working on finding the time and mind space!

Thanks for your patience and indulgence!

City Stopovers

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Here are a few pictures taken at various times over the past few weeks, all in downtown Chicago…

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

I never manage to see enough of any one species to tire of them. Although Tennessee Warblers often appear abundant, they are not always easy to capture. For comparison with a species they resemble, I have an Orange-Crowned Warbler below.

Orange-Crowned Warbler

Orange-Crowned Warbler

There seemed to be fewer birds altogether this year, but I don’t know if it is due to loss of habitat, weather patterns, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or a combination of all three.

NOWA 9-22-15 -2652

Northern Waterthrush

I frequently see Northern Waterthrushes on the ground, but less often perched in trees.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

The day I saw the Kentucky Warbler, there were so few birds altogether at Lake Shore East Park I wasn’t even aware I had seen this rarity until I checked my photographs later. The bird kept ducking in and out of hydrangeas planted near the east end of the park and I was consumed with trying to stop it long enough for a picture.

American Redstart

American Redstart

First-year male American Redstarts seem to be born exhibitionists, on the other hand.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

This Blackpoll was pretty cooperative too on the day I saw it.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

And Common Yellowthroats, as difficult as they are to see on their breeding grounds…are frequent park visitors.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

A Hermit Thrush reminding me It’s The Food, Stupid.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

At 155 N. Wacker there haven’t been very many birds, but last week there was this sapsucker scaling a wall.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

And a White-Crowned Sparrow popped out last week at a new spot on the river that looks promising for future visits.

City Frog 9-24-15-2724

City Frog

Planters 10-2-15 -3215City Frog 9-24-15-2716

Perhaps the strangest thing I saw this fall was a frog in the corner of one of these wrought-iron-encased planters on Randolph near Wacker. How it got there boggles the mind.

It’s time to say goodbye to the warblers until spring. But many more sparrows are likely to be showing up. I’m thankful for that because they tend to be easier to see! And at least I can always carry on a conversation with White-Throated Sparrows.

AMRE 9-28-15-3082

Briefly from the Olympic Peninsula

Pacific Loon

Pacific Loon

Getting home late one week ago from the American Birding Association Olympic Peninsula Birding Rally, I went straight back to work the next morning after making a quick run to the grocery store for a few perishables to tide us over. I am still reviewing all the pictures to clarify gull and shorebird species identification, and I hope to post more seaside pictures later in the week, but I wanted to at least gasp quickly while coming up for air.

I got 13 life birds on this trip, I think, at least that’s the number that’s sticking in my mind at the moment. George Armistead from the ABA promised to send us all complete lists which will be helpful, as I kept somewhat of a list from memory only each day, which is never entirely reliable.

There were life birds that I did not get pictures of, but here are a few ones I did. Light conditions were generally miserable (overcast, drizzly, backlit) but I did the best I could. I’d like to go back someday, spend a little more time and have more lenses ready for different situations. The plant species…trees, shrubs, mosses and fungi to generalize a few…were amazing.

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend’s Warbler

I was very happy to get a good look at the Townsend’s Warbler, especially because it still looks similar to a few other species I don’t know well!

Hutton's Vireo

Hutton’s Vireo

I have seen Hutton’s Vireo before, but never got a picture of one, so this was a lifer for the lens.

Red=Bellied Sapsucker

Red=Bellied Sapsucker

The Red-Bellied Sapsucker kept darting around the tree trunk to the other side but I did manage somehow to capture him and lighten him up enough…

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen a Harlequin Duck. I thought perhaps I might have, but now I am 100% certain that I can add to my list as there were several. Not in breeding plumage, but still a remarkable bird.

Thousands of Sooty Shearwaters

Thousands of Sooty Shearwaters

Standing on the beach watching gulls and shorebirds, when suddenly a seemingly endless stream of Sooty Shearwaters flew by over the space of several minutes. The trip leaders estimated 50,000. So I guess I can never say I barely saw this bird if I saw thousands of them!

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

The White-Crowned Sparrow is not new on my life list but I heard murmurings that this could be a subspecies to eventually be split. Whatever, I don’t care, it was nice to get a picture of a lovely young cooperative bird.

Heermann's Gulls

Heermann’s Gulls

I know I said gulls will come later, but the Heermann’s Gull is definitely a life bird for me, and what a beautiful bird with the distinctive orange-red bill. Here’s what Cornell has to say about it on their All About Birds website:

“This gray-bodied, white-headed gull breeds in Mexico and then moves north along the Pacific Coast to southern British Columbia.”

White-headed must refer to the adult breeding plumage of this species. I did find the gray bodies to be distinctive too. It’s always a pleasure to get to know an easily identifiable gulls species. I should never have to worry about confusing this bird with any other gull!

Generally the trip was brief but enjoyable, and I will be back with more pictures and thoughts as soon as possible. I also have some catching up to do with a little midwest passerine migration.

Three Weeks: Chicago Portage

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

Back on the 10th of May I was at the Chicago Portage and counted 52 species. On the 17th of May, visiting with two friends, we counted 35 species. This afternoon, after gale winds in the morning and some rain, I went over to see what was up and counted 29 species.

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Cape May Warbler, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Eastern Phoebe, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Three weeks ago was the height of spring migration, and already by last weekend it was slowing down.

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

Canada Geese at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15

CAGO Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2361

Gosling, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Last week the goose family had dwindled to four goslings and today I was told by a woman I talked to on the trail that they were down to three. I did run into the geese today, but they were foraging in the grasses and I did not want to bother them, as they were pretty well hidden. So I am taking her word for it.

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Red-Eyed Vireo, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln's Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

Veery, 5-10-15

The Red-Eyed Vireos are still present and singing, so they probably breed here, but all the thrushes except for American Robin have left, and the sparrow species as well. There was quite an influx of Veerys this year, I don’t usually see them.

WCSP Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0022

White-Crowned Sparrow, 5-10-15

GRHE Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9934

Green Heron, 5-10-15

But as the last of the sparrows were getting ready to leave, the Green Herons were returning. I believe there are two although I have not yet seen them both on the same visit. I think they also hang out at Ottawa Trail Woods which is also where we went last weekend. I have included a few pictures here are from Ottawa Trail Woods, as it is basically part of the same ecosystem.

SOSA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9921

Solitary Sandpiper, 5-10-15

SPSA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9908

Spotted Sandpiper, 5-10-15

Spotted at the Chicago Portage 5-10-15-9854

Spotted Sandpiper at the Chicago Portage, 5-10-15

On the 10th I saw both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, not on sandbars or mudflats but on dead wood in the water. The water levels were a bit lower though. I have not seen or heard any shorebirds since.

SCTA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0145

Scarlet Tanager, 5-10-15

The Scarlet Tanager above basically flew down and sat right in front of me. I was so surprised I barely got his photograph.

YRWA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0389

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Myrtle female, 5-10-15 – You cannot see the yellow rump but this is the first year I have noticed they also have yellow on the crown

YEWA Chicago Portage 5-10-15-0350

Yellow Warbler, 5-10-15

The only warblers willing to pose were the most common ones. The Yellow-Rumped Warblers are gone, but the Yellow Warblers stay for the summer.

Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2312

Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

INBU Ottawa Trail 5-17-15-2379

Indigo Bunting, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

BASW Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2243

Barn Swallows, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

BEKI Portage 5-17-15-2256

Female Belted Kingfisher, Chicago Portage, 5-17-15

Indigo Buntings are everywhere. I have not seen the females yet but the Portage has at least four males singing on territory. I have also seen many Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows.

Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3512

Chicago Portage, 5-25-15

BAOR Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3661

Baltimore Oriole, 5-25-15

GRHE Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3640

Green Heron, 5-25-15 – Not as visible today as three weeks ago.

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 - There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

Eastern Kingbird, Portage 5-25-15 – There were two today, sallying for prey over the slough

TRSW Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3534

Tree Swallow, 5-25-15

Red Admiral Chicago Portage 5-25-15-3562

Red Admiral on a wildflower I have yet to identify – I should know it! But I have never seen it at the Portage before. Is this some kind of monarda?

I included the butterfly picture because to me it signals the end of spring migration and the beginning of summer, when butterflies and dragonflies vie for my attention.

WODU Chicago Portage 5-17-15-2349

Wood Duck, Ottawa Trail Woods, 5-17-15

I didn’t see any ducks today at the Portage. In years past there have always been a breeding pair of Wood Ducks, so I hope they are busy nesting.

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can't be all hers?)!

A Mallard mom with eleven ducklings (they can’t be all hers?)! (Ottawa Trail, 5-17-15)

I hope to be back soon with a short report on birds in Berwyn. I just saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at my hummingbird feeders this evening, which gave me the perfect reason  to clean and refill the feeders. While I was out in my yard my neighbor appeared and told me he saw the hummer yesterday! Maybe I’ll get a picture this year before September.