The goldeneyes return!

The cold and wind are starting to back off a bit, and the sun was out, so it was a perfect morning in Estabrook Park. The river ice continues to form, however, so my wish came true, and the goldeneyes have begun to arrive. Here’s a hen on the rapids at the south end.


And here’s a drake just a bit upstream.


There were still plenty of mallards on the rapids, and a few Canada geese at the north end, but the common mergansers have moved on for now. Also at the north end, this red-bellied woodpecker was busy hunting up some frozen bugs for breakfast.


At the pond, this mourning dove posed perfectly in the bright morning sun.


I couldn’t tell if this pair of dark-eyed juncos was looking for something to eat, hoping for sun warmth reflected off the log, or both.


I was happy to see cedar waxwings still hanging around the pond.


Finally, here’s a male house sparrow who must have strayed into the park from the surrounding suburbs.


Lastly, thanks to those of you who wrote in to express concern for me in the cold, but you needn’t worry. I’ve managed to build up a good layer of insulation on my strict diet of dark bread and mature Gouda cheese.

Tomorrow, Anne and I are off to the east coast to see more family, so you’ll be on your own again, but I’m bringing my camera, and I have a hope of showing you some east coast critters.

The snow is done, but the wind and the cold press on.

The thermometer said, “-7°F”, and the wind said, “let’s make that feel like -33°F”, but the snow was fresh, and the sun was out, so I hustled out the door this morning to see who might be out and about in Estabrook Park.

The river has frozen over below the falls, which has backed up the water so much that the surface drop at the falls is barely a foot, instead of the 3 or more foot drop I saw just yesterday. Above the falls, the river is completely frozen past the two islands and all the way to the Port Washington Road bridge at the north end of the park. Perhaps this will bring us some golden eyes, buffleheads, or scaups.

Today I only saw some common mergansers and a few mallards in the water and a few geese on the ice, same as yesterday, but the great horned owl was hiding someplace better protected from the wind, we can hope, so I hadn’t even taken a picture by the time I turned back south and headed over to the pond.

There, in the bushes and trees along the north shore, where the wind out of the northwest was blocked and the sun was doing its best to warm things up, the hardy little birds were having quite a party.

I saw a half dozen house finches, and I’m sure there were more. Here’s a male soaking up the sun.


The big surprise was about a dozen cedar waxwings.


Here are a couple amongst the berries overhanging the water, and I was happy to discover that the pond ice is thick enough to support me while I lined up this shot with the sun at my back.


Here’s a nice and poofy American robin.


There was a pair of downy woodpeckers, and here’s the male.


Finally, here’s a black-capped chickadee pausing for just a moment from its morning foraging.


I find it absolutely astounding that these little beauties can find enough calories every single day on those seemingly-bare sticks to fuel the little fires they must have under those feathers to keep from freezing all winter long. Right? If they didn’t prove it, year in and year out, there is no way I would believe it possible.

A calm before the storm.

It was a gray morning in Estabrook, but the big storm hasn’t yet arrived, so temps where mild, the breeze was light, and the snow was on pause. I didn’t see anything notable on my walk along the river until I reached the north end, where two red-tailed hawks were perched in a tree over the northern island. This is the one that let me take a picture before they became annoyed with me and moved on.


On my way back south, I was thrilled to spot our old friend, the great horned owl catching some zzzzs on the southern island.


While trying to focus on the owl buried in the sticks, I spotted a raptor soaring over the river between the islands and figured it was one of the red-tailed hawks I had just seen, but I gave it a look with my binoculars, just in case it was an eagle instead.

Well, it wasn’t an eagle, and it had a long tail and a bright white patch on its lower back, which makes it a Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius), my very first. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to take a picture before it was out of sight, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled in the coming days.

I had barely walked 10 yards, hadn’t even looked up the northern harrier yet, and was still on cloud nine from seeing the owl when look who else was out and about. Sure enough, one of our beaver was busily packing on one more pound before the river freezes for the winter and it’s stuck in its den for weeks.


I was starting to run out of time, but on my way home, I swung by the pond to find this cute little dark-eyed junco hoping I keep right on moving so it can go back to foraging amongst the fallen leaves.


Finally, deep in the bushes, I spotted this male northern cardinal trying to get some shuteye. It took me a moment even to recognize what was going on because I’ve never seen a cardinal with its beak tucked into the feathers on its back before, as we just saw the mallards doing yesterday.


As I sit at our dining room table now typing this up, the snow is starting to fall again, so perhaps we will get some. If you’re in the path of this storm, I hope you can stay safe and enjoy the spectacle of it with me.

The Shortest Day

With temps in the single digits (°F), nearly still air, and a bit of sun shining down before it hid away behind thickening overcast, it was a fine morning for returning to Estabrook Park. The pond was frozen over, and the river was icing up, but there was still plenty of open water.

I was thrilled to see that a couple of winter visitors have already arrived. Dark-eyed juncos are here, of course, but they were too quick for me this morning. Instead, I managed to capture this common merganser drake amongst the ice out on the river between the islands.


Back on shore, the woods are full of chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, as usual, but this cute little puffball close to the ground, a hermit thrush, really caught my eye.


Even better, it ignored me and climbed higher to gulp down some berries, and a bit of sunlight really brought out the cinnamon in its plumage.


Finally, there were a slew of mallards on the river, and here’s a pair keeping warm while napping with one eye on me.


Lastly, happy Winter Solstice to those who celebrate. The forecast is for snow showers tomorrow morning, which could make for some pretty pictures, if we have any luck.

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…


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.


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.


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..


How could that face not brighten any mood, eh?


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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….


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!


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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?


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!


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!


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