Hints of winter in South Holland

Things seemed to have changed here, and the main symptom is that I’m finding it a lot harder to get nice pictures of the wild creatures. I went out both days last weekend and came home with only one picture that wasn’t even worth showing. This morning was a little better, but not by much. One culprit could be the weather. It was in the 30s last Saturday and the 20s last Sunday, with ice on some of the canals. It has also been very cloudy and rainy lately. I don’t know if the critters will be like this until the spring, but I suppose that possibility exists.

In any case, the temps this morning were in the low 40s and there were even glimpses of sunshine. It was great for birding, if not photography, and I spotted 50 species. Here are the few I managed to capture on film.

Of the four buzzards I saw, three were almost in range. Here’s one by itself, about 100 yards away, on a post at the edge of a field…

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And here’s a pair on a gate, about 200 yards away, and in the middle of a field. I read that “females average about 2–7% larger than males linearly and weigh about 15% more,” so that’s probably her on the right and him on the left. The fourth bird was in a tree on the far side of that same field, so I didn’t even bother wasting film.

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I was pleasantly surprised to spot a lone, female northern shoveler, dabbling with a few mallards and gadwalls, and even more surprised to capture a presentable image of her. There’s just something about them that always catches my eye.

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A very happy coincidence occurred when I stumbled upon a little group of long-tailed tits during one of the brief moments of sunshine with even some blue-sky in the background..

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How could that face not brighten any mood, eh?

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Finally, before the sun went back into hiding, a trio of blue tits were busy enough foraging on a birch tree to let me get one pretty picture.

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And that’s all I managed for today, I’m afraid. The current forecast is for rain all day tomorrow, so I might not have anything more to show you, either, but I’ll check again in the morning. Sometimes the rain arrives late or leaves early, if we’re lucky. Keep your fingers crossed.

The birds just keep coming…

It was another beautiful morning in South Holland, and you know the drill.

The first bird I was able to capture on film was this ginormous swan flying by, and I thought it was just another mute swan, the type we’ve been seeing all summer. Upon closer inspection, however, its beak is all black, which means it can’t be a mute swan and is likely a tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus) instead, freshly arrived from its breeding grounds along the Artic Ocean! Maybe it’s not the only one and that’s why I counted easily twice as many swans today as last month. Hmmm.

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Here’s a ring-necked pheasant with a tail almost as long as the neck on that swan.

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I was stunned to see a rare November butterfly, and this one turns out to be a red admiral. We haven’t seen one of those since September.

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As I’ve mentioned before, the European robins have become much bolder than I experienced them over the summer, and here’s one just staring me down.

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Here’s a totally new bird for us, on either continent, a Eurasian siskin (Spinus spinus), also newly arrived from breeding grounds farther north, but not quite as far as the tundra swan. It is close cousins (same genus, Spinus) with the American goldfinch, and I bet you can see the family resemblance.

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Here’s the common buzzard picture I failed to capture yesterday.

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Here’s a Eurasian green-winged teal drake busily slurping up the duckweed.

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Here’s a Eurasian widgeon drake on break from slurping up the duckweed. You can see he’s even still got a little on his shirt.

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Here’s his lovely companion, a Eurasian widgeon hen.

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Here’s yet another white stork really showing off its primary feathers, which I read separate like that on purpose to act as winglets and reduce drag.

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Finally, here’s a common wood pigeon flashing us one of its sky-blue eyes.

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Day of the Raptors, European style

I had a wonderful time being back home for a bit, and it was great to see family, friends, and all the critters in Estabrook Park again, but now I’m back in South Holland, and it sure was a beautiful morning to visit the countryside. Even though we’re back to standard time, the sun still doesn’t come up till 8am, but the birds just don’t seem to notice, and they put on one heck of a show this morning. There were at least three redwings sampling the berry buffet along the bike path, and this is the one who let me take a picture.

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Meanwhile, down by the water, this diminutive moorhen gave us a good look at its size-12 feet.

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The grey herons were busy foraging this morning, and I counted 20 individuals.

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As I was about the cross back under the train tracks, I spotted this Eurasian kestrel take a perch on the wires overhead, and I was surprised by how close it let me approach.

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A train speeding our way, on the other hand, was an entirely different matter.

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I hadn’t even walked all the way back to my bicycle before another raptor approached, and this time it was an osprey! After that amazing visit in Estabrook last fall, I’d recognize that face paint anywhere. I read now that “the osprey is the second most widely distributed raptor species, after the peregrine falcon,” whom we have also seen both at home and abroad.

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The osprey today caused quite a ruckus, however, and here it is being chased by five crows and two gulls! I read further that “the osprey is piscivorous,” and “fish” make “up 99% of its diet,” but maybe the other birds can’t tell the difference.

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After all that excitement, I finally did cross under the train tracks, and as soon as I parked my bicycle on the other side, yet another raptor was beset by corvids, crows and magpies this time. This one was a sparrowhawk, and here it is catching its breath in a moment of piece. Since “the Eurasian sparrowhawk is a major predator of smaller woodland birds“, perhaps they are better suited to handle the harassment, or the other birds know better to keep a greater distance.

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Once I had that picture, I finally headed into the small bit of woods and was immediately greeted by this female chaffinch foraging beside the path.

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Back out of the woods, I spotted this pair of ducks, and they might be female greater scaups, but I’m not quite sure because….

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They look so much like female tufted ducks, which I found farther along the canal. Here’s a handsome male sporting his tuft. I read that distinguishing between the various members of the Aythya genus can be tricky. Best of all “hybrid Aythyas are common.” Sheesh!

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Anyway, back up in the air, I was pleasantly surprised to find a pair of storks that haven’t flown south yet.

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I did see a few buzzards, too, including a pair soaring together, and even got a picture of one from afar, but it is too blurry to include. Nevertheless, that makes today a 4-raptor day, which beats my previous record of 3 raptors in one morning in Estabrook Park. Woo hoo!

Calm returns and life resumes…

It was a mighty fine morning in Estabrook Park. The air was a cool 39°F, but the breeze was pretty light, especially down along the river, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so the sun was warming things up quickly.

I stopped by the pond and found our newest visitor, the hooded merganser hen, still hanging out with the wood ducks, mallards, and even Canada geese.

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This mallard hen gave me quite the look after she came all the way up on the west lawn and I had nothing for her to eat. Sorry, Honey! I’m not that guy.

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Meanwhile, down at the river, a great blue heron was taking full advantage of that warm sun.

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There was nobody new or especially photogenic this morning at the north end, but when I turned south, I found one of my favorite little cuties, a red squirrel, busily foraging for breakfast. I don’t know what kept them out of sight until this morning, but I saw two today.

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A bit beyond the squirrel, I was thrilled to find that the fur we’ve been seeing might have been two raccoons all along, and this morning one of them had its eyes open. Yay! Boy, that sure looks cozy, doesn’t it?

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Farther south, the great blue heron was still in the same spot, but the bigger surprise was this American coot foraging at the water’s edge with a pair of mallards. Hot diggity, another unusual bird. With prominent white feathers on the underside of its tail and a much less prominent white beak, it looks just like a cross between the Eurasian coots and the moorhens I see in South Holland.

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Anyway, the blue sky makes a welcome background for this busy female red-bellied woodpecker.

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And finally, I heard the weird song of this European starling long before I was able to spot it. Happily, it just kept on singing, and my gaze eventually stumbled upon it.

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Changing of the guard, fall edition.

Now that most of the storm system seems to have blown by us, and the sun even peeked through the clouds a bit this morning, life in Estabrook Park is returning to normal. There were about a half dozen mallards and a trio of wood ducks on the pond.

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Best of all our first winter visitor has arrived: a gorgeous little female hooded merganser!

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She was sticking close to the wood ducks, and when they swam over to see if I was one of the old guys that feeds them (I’m not!), she swam right over with them. Sweet!

Also at the pond, a little female downy woodpecker was busy at work right beside the path.

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And, I spotted this puffy little white-throated sparrow. He even sang me one verse of “Oh Canada da da da”.

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Meanwhile, at the river, this raccoon forgot to set its clock back, doesn’t even have a clock, or is simply nocturnal. In any case, it was sleeping the morning away again.

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Lastly, the belted kingfishers keep right on fishing, and here’s one turning his nose from a bush full of berries in hopes of a more-wriggly breakfast.

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What a treat it has been to catch one of the last catbirds before they had all flown south for the winter and welcome one of the first hooded mergansers, for whom Estabrook might be her winter home, all in the same week.

A Soggy Saturday.

After the storms that rolled through last night, it was a dark and soggy morning in Estabrook Park, though not actually raining, much. The river was up nearly a foot and running brown and fast. Nevertheless, this intrepid kingfisher was out hunting for its breakfast from the far shore. Good luck, little buddy!

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As I approached the southern island, a deer must have been working up the nerve to swim over to it, and my arrival was just the impetus it needed to take the plunge. As fast as I ran to get a shot, it swam faster, and all I could get was its right ear peeking out over the brush on the island.

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At the north end, this great blue heron was in the same boat as the kingfisher, although it appears to have found some calmer water. Bonne chance, big guy!

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Finally, on my way back south, this grey squirrel seemed to be asking, “why aren’t you home in bed like everyone else?” Great question, my furry friend!

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And that’s the whole story for today. Perhaps things will be on their way back to normal tomorrow.

A break in the weather…

Well, maybe this is what I get for whining about how Thursday’s weather wasn’t as perfect as Wednesday’s and Tuesday’s. With all that cloud cover, it sure took its sweet time getting light this morning, so I waited until after my 9am zoom meeting before venturing into Estabrook Park.

I headed straight to the north end, as that’s where most of the action has been lately, and the mallards tipped me off that a big raptor was probably lurking around somewhere nearby. Sure enough, I found this tall, dark, beauty in a cottonwood tree over the far shore. This seems to be a popular hangout for all the young eagles.

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Meanwhile, back on the east side, I wasn’t the only one keeping an eye on the distant eagle. Here’s another young Cooper’s hawk, without all the jewelry, keeping close taps on its big cousin on the far shore.

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Then the rain started, so I headed home. By the time I reached the pond, it had let up a bit, so I stopped in to say hi to the geese, mallards, and wood ducks. Here’s a wood duck drake looking his best,…

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and here’s a wood duck hen paying him no never mind.

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Since this is a rainy day, here are some of the pictures I saved from earlier this week.

First is a very energetic and slightly blurry fox sparrow from Wednesday, with its “rich reddish brown” back and “black and yellow” bill.

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Also a swamp sparrow from Wednesday with its “gray face and collar”, “rusty cap”, and “a dark line through the eye.”

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Then a song sparrow from Tuesday, with “course streaks” on its chest, “russet stripes” on its crown, and “broad malar or mustache stripes.”

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And finally, a low-light image of an American tree sparrow from Tuesday, with its “rusty cap and eyeline”, “gray face”, “bicolor bill”, and “unstreaked underparts.”

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That’s 4 of the 9 total sparrows I’ve ever identified in Estabrook Park, all in just one week!

Double the pleasure…

It was a nice enough morning in Estabrook Park, but a little breezy, so more like a copy of a copy rather than another cast from the same mold. I didn’t see any deer today, and the mammals were represented by this shy little cutie instead.

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Belted kingfishers continue to make rackets along the river, and these two were particularly energetic as they appeared to be becoming acquainted. The female is below, with a chestnut belt across her chest, and the male is above without.

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The pond was crowded this morning with a full dozen wood ducks, 14 Canada geese, and a hand-full of mallards. I didn’t see anything new or particularly photogenic, so I continued on to the north end. There I was treated to this darling hermit thrush feasting on the berries of some kind of spindle tree; either European spindle (Euonymus europaeus) or burning bush (Euonymus alatus).

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Meanwhile, out on the northern island, there were two (2!) young bald eagles. One was almost all dark, …

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and a second one had a lot more light feathers. This one also looked like it was trying to dry out, perhaps after a dip in the river, and it was beset by crows, but seemed unperturbed. Perhaps it is the same one we saw Tuesday, but I can’t be sure.

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What did get its attention, however, was when this peregrine falcon made a couple of close flybys.

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Nothing came of it, however, and the eagle resumed drying out, while the falcon continued north, perhaps to sample the selection of pigeons perched on the Port Washington Road bridge.

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I’ve only managed to photograph falcons in Estabrook twice before, so this was quite a treat for me.

Things that go around…

They must have kept the mold from yesterday because the weather this morning was just as nice. The critters, on the other hand, were done with their little “welcome home” display, and they were back to their usual shy and skittish selves. That’s fine with me, though, because finding them is at least half the fun.

This first critter tipped me off with its distinctive call, which I am not sure I’ve ever heard before. It sounds quite similar to the sparrow hawk in South Holland, however, so I had an inkling when I heard it. Sure enough, it was a Cooper’s hawk, and I do hope it finds who it was looking for. Plus, get a load of all the jewelry it’s sporting! We’ve seen a band on an eagle before, but Cooper here has two!

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The great blue herons are huge, and they don’t have a lot of places to hide, so if they’ve come to fish, I can usually find them. Here are the two I saw today. One with the frilly neck feathers,

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and one without.

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Instead, the exciting sight today was a completely new bird for us. When I first spotted it hanging out on the river with a few mallards, I thought it might be a young male blue-winged teal, whom we see often enough and who sport a white vertical stripe down the front of their face..

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It was small, as a teal, too, but the body feathers looked more like those of a scaup, whom we have seen, but less so than the teals.

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Well, it is neither a teal, nor a scaup. Please give a warm, Estabrook-Park welcome to our first ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris), a female! She is a diving duck, as she demonstrated a few times this morning, and “of all the diving duck species, the Ring-necked Duck is most likely to drop into small ponds during migration.” She is probably on her way from breeding grounds, which start in northern Wisconsin and extend all the way to Hudson Bay, to wintering grounds that start in Tennessee and extend to the Gulf of Mexico.

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I can’t believe that I still get to see new critters. After all that excitement, this poor raccoon didn’t even bother getting out of bed.

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And this handsome buck just took off across the soccer fields.

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There were a few other little birds, but let’s save those for a rainy day.

A fine homecoming…

What an absolutely gorgeous November morning for a walk in Estabrook Park, with crystal blue skies, frost on the fallen leaves, and crisp, still air quickly warming in the bright sun. Even better, the critters came out to enjoy it with me.

As I approached the underpass that connects the Oak Leaf Trail to the path along the edge of the bluff, I spotted a pair of deer, and here’s the one willing to let me take a picture.

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In the bushes beside the pond, I was thrilled to see that at least one gray catbird has not yet flown to the Gulf coast for the winter.

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Meanwhile, on the water right behind the catbird, a hand-full of wood ducks was busy preening after their morning swim.

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Down by the river, a goldfinch was just soaking up the sun.

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Just upstream, on a branch over the river, this great blue heron was preening while it warmed.

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On a tree over the northern island, a young bald eagle, perhaps hatched just this summer, was content to watch the Canada geese and mallards foraging on the river below and let me take this portrait.

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A murder of crows, however, was less than thrilled about the situation and tried but failed to urge it along its way. The eagle simply seemed to ignore them, and they soon gave up and moved on.

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Lastly, a belted kingfisher was kind enough to perch in front of some colorful foliage that has not yet dropped for the season.

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South Holland is great and all, and I sure am lucky to have the opportunity to be there, but it sure is great to be back, too, even if only for a week.