As our most recent visit to NE Illinois draws to a close, the visions of Snow Buntings, Northern Shrikes and Snowy Owls that danced in my head are beginning to fade. While time afield has been limited by the weather and our duties, we have had a few opportunities to drive out to vast areas of corn fields a few miles west of Batavia, where we have been staying in our daughter's home. She and her husband made progress in their recovery from recent injuries. Thankfully, she is now able to drive their two daughters to school. Since this was the most critical task we had to perform for them, there is now less need for our continued presence.
When we arrived in early February there were a few clear days before the snow and cold set in. We did not find our target birds, but this old barn was an attractive subject.
We visited the banks of the Fox River and found flocks of Common Goldeneyes.
The males were performing courtship displays, fluffing their head feathers and pointing their bills straight up to the sky. The females acted as if they were not impressed by this amazing feat.
Several Bald Eagles flew over, including this immature bird.
The ducks took flight at the sight of the eagle...
...but soon settled back down on the river.
Several Common Mergansers were also present.
Most of our "birding" was at the feeders in our daughter's back yard. Before the snows came I could get good shots of Northern Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees from their rear deck.
Then came the snow. Agramonte, their 100+ pound Tibetan Mastiff really enjoyed falling asleep under a blanket of the white stuff.
The snow has been deep enough to block access to the feeder on the other side of the fence. Now the little plastic barn feeder that hangs just off the deck is the only one in operation. This does bring the birds closer, but they must be photographed through double-paned glass windows. Therefore my images are mostly soft and blurry. What else is a birder to do when house-bound?
The local throngs of House Sparrows were joined by Dark-eyed Juncos...
...the Northern Cardinal...
...and a flock of American Tree Sparrows.
Dried cherries clung to two trees in the back yard, attracting juncos...
...and American Robins.
When the roads were cleared we ventured out to the cornfields.
Mary Lou usually accompanied me, as I can depend upon her sharp eyes to spot little flocks in the snowy fields, if they are present. So far we have found only Horned Larks and a single Lapland Longspur. I have had to settle for distant views and soft images of both species.
Early one afternoon I drove out alone and Mary Lou missed the best sighting. I spent about an hour scoping out the cornfields in Sugar Grove, west of Batavia, again looking for Snow Buntings. None were to be found, but I saw this Coyote.
Two Northern Harriers swooped over it, one a subadult male and the other presumably an immature female.
The harriers exchanged places on a fence post and watched the Coyote as it passed by along the hedgerow.
The Coyote moved directly to the north, and when about 0.7 miles away (per Google Earth) it turned to the left and started chasing two deer along a farm road. The Coyote ran after them in two sprints, then stopped. The deer looked back at the Coyote on the road.
The Coyote gave up the chase and simply turned around and walked away.
The two deer were joined by another that came out of the high grasses along the track. They watched the Coyote for a few minutes and then walked back along the same path and disappeared behind the hedgerow.
I just know that as soon as I get back to Florida I will start reading about all the Snow Buntings that are flocking in these corn fields! And shrikes? Snowy Owls?