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The Constant Cardinals.

The cardinals are regular year-round visitors to our garden but, unlike the sparrows who arrive in hordes, they appear mostly one pair at a time.

They are cautious birds and prefer not to get involved in any kind of brawl with other visitors to the feeders, usually waiting until the coast is clear to come down.

The cardinal pair may stay together for years, although I doubt they can match the milestone that my husband and I reached yesterday, celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary.

Feeding Finches

By far, the most numerous birds that we see in our garden, after the sparrows of course, are finches. Their numbers appear to have remained fairly constant over the past 30 years, despite the loss of many neighborhood treees due to Dutch elm disease and the ash borer. Like the sparrows, they are adaptable.

I’m never quite sure if these are purple finches or house finches. Even the National Audubon Society does not seem to give a definitive explanation. There are just too many variables.

They are feisty little creatures and one of the few birds that are willing to get into a scrap with the sparrows at the bird feeders where they very often come out on top.

One incident that occured last year, involving finches, while not funny at the time, makes me laugh (and shudder) now when I think about it. I’d gone out to fill the feeders and didn’t notice a finch sitting right by the doorstep. As I pulled the door shut, the finch hopped in and was trapped between the door and the storm door. After a few minutes I turned around and saw the finch looking back at me through the window with what I can only describe as a look of consternation. Gazing at each other in wild surmise, we were at an impasse. He couldn’t get out and, because of my overwhelming fear of birds, I couldn’t even touch the handle of the door to allow him to escape. Eventually I did the only thing possible, flung open the door, screamed and ran. The bird flew out and landed on the feeder, probably wondering what all the commotion was about. “Silly woman!”

The Nimble Nuthatch

Although it may sometimes get lost in the crowd of sparrows that habitually hang out in our garden, another fairly frequent visitor is the little nuthatch.

It usually comes down when the others take off. The birds are very wary of danger, especially when the hawk is about, and are quick to take flight, which is when the little nuthatch swoops in and takes advantage of a lull in the action at the bird feeder. This nimble little creature is quite the acrobat and, with his long beak, can reach all those tasty slivers of peanuts that are mixed in with the seed.

I’m always rather nervous when I go out to fill up the feeders as the nuthatch does not appear to be much afraid of humans and does, on occasion, fly down while I am still standing there which, given my ornithophobia, can be quite disconcerting. I wish I was one of these people who can hold out their hand and have the bird come and perch on it, but I would probably have heart failure.

Walking in Spring Valley

As I mentioned in my previous post, Monday was my first visit this year to Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg. So far, we have had a reasonably mild winter and it was nice to be able to get out and walk around the Center instead of the usual, boring trek around the track at the local gym. They had cleared quite a lot of the growth on the prairie near the entrance and things had a much different look from the last time I was there.

Over by the lake, I noticed that they had replaced the viewing platform. It is much steadier now, which certainly helps when photographing the surrounding scenery.

Further along the path there was evidence of some freshly cut trees, no doubt victims of the high winds that we experienced just before Christmas. It’s somehow comforting to come upon the remains of an old tree that is no longer growing. I’m glad they left it there. It makes a good nesting place for the woodpeckers.

Walking up towards the farm, I was surprised to see this area open. It is usually closed off during the winter months. There weren’t any animals about, but the red barns always make a good shot.

On the path back to the cabin, there was another area that had been cleared of densely growing shrubs and undergrowth. It looked like they had installed a nesting box high in a tree. I’m not sure what they expect to entice there, something fairly big I imagine. Maybe a woodpecker or flicker.

At the little pond by the cabin, our three mallard ducks from the previous post were swimming around and generally enjoying the sunny weather.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge – Feathers

The theme for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week is Feathers and, as luck would have it, I managed to capture a few shots on Monday that I thought would fit the bill (no pun intended.) The weather was chilly but sunny and dry when I paid my first visit of the year to Spring Valley Nature Center and I found myself spending some quality time with three mallard ducks that, unlike the poor bird in the previous post, were very much alive.

They appeared to be in the middle of a quick wash and brush up, with much flapping of wings, vigorous splashing and acrobatic contortions that were evidently required in order to get those feathers in tip top condition.

They did not seem to mind me gawping in on their ablutions. In fact, with their quacking laughter they seemed to be saying, “If you liked that one, get a load of this!”

Out For A Duck

Hawk 1 – Duck 0. While I was taking a walk around our local park yesterday, I came across a hawk tucking into a mallard duck. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me, so had to make the best of the situation with the phone camera. I didn’t want to get too close in case I frightened the hawk off, so I had to zoom in quite a bit. The duck was already dead so I figured the hawk might as well finish its meal. As it was, it gave me quite the glare as I inched closer, as if he thought I might want to join in. I like duck, but I prefer mine cooked, thanks. (Cricket enthusiasts will get the title.)

Watching Woodpeckers

When we are not being inundated by sparrows and squirrels, we are happy to see other creatures in the garden. Recently, we’ve noticed downy and red-bellied woodpeckers. Watching them, it’s easy to see how they inspired the endearing Woody Woodpecker character of cartoon fame, even though ours don’t have the bright red crest.

Thankfully, the woodpecker wasn’t doomed to be memorialized merely as a comedian. In his poem The Progress of Spring, Alfred Lord Tennyson refers to it as “the jubilant woodpecker” and it also gets a mention from other famous poets such as Robert Frost in The Ghost House, Percy Bysshe Shelley in The Recollection and Carl Sandburg in River Roads. The woodpecker has certainly made its mark in the world of literature.

In our garden, they usually only come down to the feeders when the coast is clear but once there, they’ll defend their position vigorously. Of the two downy woodpeckers that we see regularly, the female (the one without the red blotch on the back of the head) is by far the more aggresive when it comes to fending off the competition.

With its long bill, the red-bellied woodpecker is perfectly postitioned to get at those hard-to-reach morsels. I believe the one that appears in these pictures is a female and she is not such a frequent visitor so I count myself lucky if she arrives while I am waiting by the window with the camera.

The sparrows and woodpeckers may have their squabbles but they are united by one common enemy, in this case the hawk that likes to swoop down and perch on the neighbor’s fence, although judging by past experience, the sparrow has more to worry about than the woodpecker.

Water, Water Everywhere – At Brookfield Zoo

Looking back on some warmer days at Brookfield Zoo for Jez’s Water, Water Everywhere Challenge. I don’t imagine there’s too much frolicking about in the water going on just now, in these freezing temperatures.

It wasn’t only the sea lions that were having fun in the water. The polar bears enjoyed the occasional dip too.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge – Sycamore

This week, Cee has chosen anything made from wood as the theme for her Black & White Photo Challenge. This gives me a good opportunity to share some pictures that I haven’t used before. On our way to DeKalb, back in October, we stopped off in Sycamore to visit the DeKalb County History Center. We looked in at the little museum they have there, but what really caught my eye was the old barn outside.

Season’s Greetings

Wishing all my blogging friends Compliments of the Season. It has been a pleasure to read your posts and enjoy your lovely pictures throughout the year. Thank you too, for your ‘likes’ and comments. It makes all the picture-taking and writing so much more worthwhile. I’m looking forward to beginning a New Year with you all.