To the Woman Behind Me in Line at the Grocery Store

Bluebird Annie:

I’m still here …. just busy with other priorities AND have not been able to load the winter’s photos on my Blog … have not been able to figure it out.

But for today, I’m not concerned about birding or posting photos. I just thought this was a great story.

Originally posted on True Stories of a Midwest Yankee:

Dear woman behind me in line at the grocery store,

You don’t know me. You have no clue what my life has been like since October 1, 2013. You have no clue that my family has gone through the wringer. You have no clue that we have faced unbelievable hardship. You have no clue we have been humiliated, humbled, destitute.
You have no clue I have cried more days than not; that I fight against bitterness taking control of my heart. You have no clue that my husband’s pride was shattered. You have no clue my kids have had the worries of an adult on their shoulders. You have no clue their innocence was snatched from them for no good reason. You know none of this.

What you do know is I tried to buy my kids some food and that the EBT machine was down so I couldn’t buy…

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Happy Bird Day – National Bird Day 2014

There is a PBS film presentation, Parrot Confidential, that is worth taking time to watch.  It will both break your heart and fill your heart with joy.  Access a link to the film and a video conversation with the filmmaker at the National Bird Day website.

I treasure having had the opportunity to see these magnificent birds in their wild habitat in Central America.  So, have a box of tissues handy while you grab a steaming cup of Costa Rican organic shade-grown coffee (I get mine from Café Cristina) and watch.

National Bird Day 2014

National Bird Day 2014

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A new woodpecker species appeared in my mini-bird sanctuary!

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes caro...

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). Photo taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 in Johnston County, North Carolina, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That bird feeding station outside my window just never ceases to give pleasure and amaze.

I was happy to show off my resident Red-bellied Woodpecker to Cousin Sally when she was over for Christmas dinner yesterday.  Or rather, he was showing off his skills in clinging to the suet feeder swallowing chunks of food.  He is not a super regular visitor.  So that makes him a bit special when he does show up.

Northern Flicker

When that Red-belly showed up, conversation turned to woodpecker species.  “What’s a Northern Flicker look like?”  Well, since I just so happen to have two birding books on the end table in front of the window ….. here.  See?  The closest to my house I’ve ever seen one?  Oh, that was in the forested area around the ponds out back.  Never around my feeders.

English: yellow-bellied sapsucker

English: yellow-bellied sapsucker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I was pleasantly surprised by a NEW woodpecker species visit.  A … could it be?  But … does it winter around here?  A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!  Quick! Check the “Birds of Illinois” book to make sure I can believe my eyes.  Yes!  Illinois is on the northern edge of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s winter territory.  More are found in southern Illinois than here in the north this time of year.  To be sure, I’ve spotted them in the local forests in early spring.  But … here?  In my yard?  In winter?

A quick check of the Illinois Birder’s Forum website and the local Christmas Bird Count listings prove it.  Six Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were sighted at my local arboretum during the CBC on December 15th.  So, it’s confirmed!  They’re in the area and a new bird species has made its appearance outside my birding window.  It was not at the feeding station, but that could change.  What a wonderful thing it would be to have a close-up view of a resident Yellow-belly enjoying the suet feeder!

We birders get excited about the craziest things!

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Feeding Frenzy In The Snow

Snowy days always bring birds to the feeders in droves.  The ground and trees are covered with snow making it difficult for them to find food.  Open water in the heated bird bath is more than welcome – it can be a literal life-saver.

Although the birds refused to sit still for photos, the camera managed to snap a few shots that captured the chilly feel around the feeding station during a recent snow storm.

The suet feeder, nyger seed Goldfinch feeder and the hopper filled with millet, sunflower and safflower mix draw a crowd on a snowy day with trees and ground covered and other food sources scarce.

The suet feeder, nyger seed Goldfinch feeder and the hopper filled with millet, sunflower and safflower mix draw a crowd on a snowy day with trees and ground covered and other food sources scarce.

 

This American Goldfinch individual is easy to identify since he has a distinctive pattern of feathers on his head.

Dehydration can threaten survival in winter when there are few sources of water that’s not frozen. Eating cold snow saps the birds’ energy, so an open source of liquid water helps them tolerate the cold. Water also helps them keep their feathers clean providing better insulation against the bitter winter weather. This American Goldfinch individual is easy to identify since he has a distinctive pattern of feathers on his head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-capped Chickadees are quick-moving little acrobats occasionally pausing before swooping down to grab a seed from the feeder and flit back to a tree branch.

Black-capped Chickadees are quick-moving little acrobats. Occasionally, they may pause for a while to survey the feeding station situation before swooping down to grab a sunflower or safflower seed and flit back to a tree branch to savor the morsel.

This Chickadee is busy selecting a sunflower or safflower seed from the feeder.

Caught in the act. Typical Chickadee behavior. This Chickadee is busy selecting a sunflower or safflower seed from the feeder before flying into a nearby branch to crack it open and relish the meat inside. Meanwhile, the lights from the Christmas tree inside provide a warm contrast to cold snowflakes swirling around the wild bird feeding station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-breasted Nuthatch pauses on top of the feeding station.

This Red-breasted Nuthatch pauses atop the feeding station before deciding whether to approach the hopper feeder for sunflower seed or the suet feeder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An American Robin extends its reach to select a berry in the hawthorn tree.

This American Robin extends its reach to select a berry in the hawthorn tree. Robins prefer lipid-rich fruits in fall and winter. When they eat honeysuckle berries exclusively, they sometimes become intoxicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dark-eyed Junco pauses on a branch of a snow-covered tree with a snowflake balanced on the tip of its bill.

This Dark-eyed Junco has a snowflake balanced on the tip of its bill. These gentle birds are mainly ground feeders and are most often found eating millet seed that has fallen from the feeder above. On snowy days when the ground is covered with snow, they will eat from a feeder, although they are clearly not comfortable.

A Downy Woodpecker searches for insect larvae that live inside tree bark.

A Downy Woodpecker searches for insect larvae that live inside tree bark.

American Goldfinches share the nyger seed feeder.

With snowflakes swirling around them, a pair of American Goldfinches shares the goldfinch nyger seed feeder.

                       

A male and female English Sparrow pair endure a snowy December day.

A male and female English Sparrow pair endure a snowy December day in northern Illinois. These invasive, non-native English Sparrows more than outnumber the native North American birds at feeding stations.

This female Northern Cardinal has a few flakes of snow on her feathers.

This female Northern Cardinal has a few flakes of snow on her feathers.

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The question.

The question dawned on me this evening.  May I still call myself Bluebird Annie?  After all, I went out last Saturday to close up the nest boxes on my bluebird route for the winter and for the last time.  I have given up the route and let the Forest Preserve District know I will not be continuing to monitor after five seasons “on the job” in order to pursue other interests.

It was my last goodbye to my bird route and boxes where I had learned so much, saw so much of the pain, sorrow, joy, happiness that nature’s life-cycle yields.

The day before, I found myself taking shelter at a highway rest stop along Interstate 57 while tornadoes swirled within a few miles.  Tornadoes that leveled neighborhoods in Washington and Diamond, Illinois.  But this box-closing day was cold, breezy, sunny and mostly silent in the woods.  I didn’t spy one other soul on the trail.

This next box entry has a strip of duct tape applied to the inside cover to seal it for winter.

This next box entry has a strip of duct tape applied to the inside cover to seal it for winter.

I found a couple of un-occupied mouse nests in two boxes.  Swept them out.  Taped the box entries shut.

I heard the sounds of red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, and from very high above, the calls of migrating sand cranes.

I hiked back to the car and pulled away — not quite in tears, but certainly sad.

I drove to my favorite place to contemplate …. the Morton Arboretum.  Here’s their latest SEASONS Member Magazine.  I thought you might like to take a look.  On its cover is … an Eastern Bluebird.

 

 

If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear, is there a sound?

If there are no more bluebird nest boxes being monitored, can there still be a Bluebird Annie?

No question about this …. have a

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Cinnamons

At the height of the summer season it was broad daylight at 5:30 a.m.  Now as I drive out of the garage and head for the train station at that time, the darkness is broken by front porch lights and street lamps.  A reminder that the days have grown shorter.  The commuter rail platform is awash in the ugly yellow glow from lights dotting the ceiling of the brown wooden arcade that offers skimpy shelter to commuters in inclement weather.  I no longer hear Cardinals singing out their territories.  Summer has moved on. The leaves are turning.  Autumn is here.

mature male goldfinch

A mature goldfinch, like this male in his summer breeding finery, can “hang around” comfortably munching on seed from a species-specific feeder.

It’s when the “Cinnamons” arrive.  That’s my nick-name for the late-summer / early autumn cinnamon-colored American Goldfinch fledglings that appear at my feeders.  They are the noisiest fledglings!

With olive-colored plumage during winter, adult Goldfinch males molt into bright yellow with little black caps in breeding season.  Females retain their olive feather coats year-around.  The adults take their turns at the feeders.  The peace is broken when cinnamon-colored youngsters follow their parents to the feeders.

Goldfinches nest later in the season than most birds.  It’s later in the year when their favorite silky plant fluff for nests and thistle for food are abundant in the fields.  Their August and September fledglings are just beginning to learn the ropes while the springtime avian young are fairly well on their own emerging as young adults.

fledgling goldfinch slipping off of its feeder

Oops! A common sight as the season’s youngest learn how to negotiate a Goldfinch feeder.

The young Cinnamons are unsure of their footing.  Many a time they try but are unsuccessful mimicking the adults who casually hang upside down for minutes on end from the specialized Goldfinch feeder.

The little ones belly flop over the side of the perch just to find they haven’t mastered the art of clinging.  They flutter back to a tree branch.  Frustrated, they call more loudly, “Mom!  Dad!  Do you expect me to be able to feed myself?  Feed me!”

fledgling American goldfinch

This fledgling American Goldfinch, wearing its juvenile cinnamon feathers, is getting the “hang” of munching Nyger seed from the Goldfinch feeder.

 

 

I love watching the Goldfinch youngsters.  Cinnamons.  They’re vocal and insistent.  They beg food from any winged adult nearby — parents or not.

As the season moves on, they become more sure-footed and begin to comfortably cling upside down at the feeder.

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I’ve been spying on young males. But they’re leaving me.

a ruby-throated hummingbird at a favorite feeder

a ruby-throated hummingbird at a favorite feeder

Female hummingbirds outnumber male hummingbirds in nature.

Young Ruby-throated hummingbird males look like females during their first summer.  They don’t have ruby-red throats and they have white markings on the tips of their tails like the females.

Some of these young males will begin to  show a few small red feathers around their throats in late summer and early autumn of their “hatch year”.

And so, as I get a very close look at the hummers on the feeder outside my kitchen window, I’ve been spying on young males.  I know they are hatch year male Ruby-throated hummers because they’re sporting new, clean, tiny red dots on their throats.

hummer and tiny mice

a hummingbird sips nectar from the flower of a plant called “tiny mice”

The tiny red dots glint in the light as the young hummers move.

Male hummers!

It’s something to get excited about because there just are not that many males.  And these can be identified as having been hatched just this breeding season.

Sadly, they are leaving me.

Off to warm Central American wintering grounds where the hatch year males will grow out full gorgets of ruby-red feathers before I see them again in spring.

hummingbird

a hummingbird plays peek-a-boo with my camera

 

 

 

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