Down by the River

I did go out for walk yesterday after all – not leaving until we were at least 1 degree above zero. The sun was shining brightly and it wasn’t windy, so as long as I kept moving it wasn’t too bad.

Except for a few ducks and geese, I hardly saw any birds. Heard a few.

There were a few Common Goldeneye in the open water. A Mallard drake was hanging out with a female Goldeneye. I saw him actually dive a couple times, like he was trying to be a diving duck for her.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of him completely submerged – not that it would have been possible to see him anyway. But earlier I did catch a Canada Goose and a couple Mallards dabbling in their usual fashion.

Below is a Mallard during and after taking a bath.

Without many birds to photograph, there was plenty of ice and snow.

And the trail, such as it was…

Here are a few more views of the Des Plaines River and environs at this Riverside location. I was using the little mirrorless camera and because of the cold half the time I could barely see what I was shooting.

My last photograph from yesterday is of a Mallard and a Canada Goose asleep on the ice. That about sums up the morning cold.

We were pleasantly warmer in the 20’s today, but the day started off cloudy and I had grocery shopping to do, so I didn’t go for a walk. Tonight we have a winter storm watch which probably means I will be shoveling snow tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll get out over the weekend. Except we will be back in the single digits again… Sometimes I wonder if it’s good or bad to know what’s coming next.

I was going to combine these photos with some from December but decided this is enough by itself. I’ll be back with the rest. In the meantime, the indoor birds and I have settled into a sort of routine where I play piano in the late afternoon before serving their evening snack. We’re slowly making our way through Bach’s sixth English Suite in D minor, among other things. I almost have the Prelude nailed, which means memorized… it feels like it takes several minutes to play, I have no idea, I haven’t timed it. But I am so aware as I’m playing of what’s coming next while simultaneously concentrating on what I am playing in the moment – it’s mind-boggling. I will be glad when my muscle memory completely takes over. I love playing Bach, I find his music so organic – but he really outdid himself with this suite.

Deep Freeze

I wasn’t going out today. At least not for a walk. I got out of bed later than usual. The birds were waiting to be fed as the bright sunshine poured through the east windows. By the time I got done feeding everyone I had convinced myself the sun was shining and there was no reason not to go for a walk, so I put on extra layers and drove over to the Portage where I was the only car in the lot.

Plenty of people had been there yesterday after the snow. Yesterday wasn’t such a bad day by comparison but I was preoccupied with the snow and stayed home. This morning we were in the single digits. But the sun was shining and there was no wind to speak of. So I walked – and I’m glad I did. My mind and body seem to need this.

Below, footprints in the snow that preceded my visit. But still better than the ice from my last visit four days earlier.

There were not a lot of birds on either day, but I was delighted to see an albeit rather distant American Kestrel land on top of a tree this morning just as I approached the first bridge. I took several photographs like the one below and then managed to capture its departure.

The first bridge

I always take photos of the landscape just to see how it changes with the seasons… There seemed to be a lot of deer tracks across the frozen stream. And then there was a family of deer.

I was fortunate enough to visit with a greeter Black-capped Chickadee for a moment.

On the earlier visit with the little camera I managed to get the images below of Northern Cardinals and an American Tree Sparrow. I saw none of these species today.

Front and back of the statue – today with snow, on the 21st without.

American Robins from my first visit and today. You can see how much colder it was today by how fluffed up the Robin below is.

I also managed to get a few photos of White-throated Sparrows both visits. The closest ones were with the little camera – better weather and a less-intimidating lens, perhaps.

I noticed the wasp nest had a nice snow cap.

There was a Red-tailed Hawk on my way out, but it refused to stay put in its perch locations long enough to photograph and I didn’t capture it well enough in flight to reproduce here.

When I got home, I decided to walk around the back with the camera to see if I could sneak a few shots of my yard birds. They know me best for when they can expect me to fill the feeders. The rest of the time they tend not to tolerate my presence outside much. They are so exposed right now. It will be easier to hang with them when the trees start filling out with leaves.

The American Goldfinches are my steadiest customers up until about 3;00 in the afternoon. I fill up the new thistle feeders every day so more of them can feed at the same time. Every morning there are at least 30 to 40 of them. This is the first winter in a couple years that I haven’t had Pine Siskins visiting the thistle feeders as well.

American Goldfinch

House Sparrows…an exiting House Finch and American Goldfinch…and some Goldfinches on the thistle feeders. Those feeders were full this morning before I left.

I won’t know if I’m going for a walk tomorrow until I venture out into the yard. Dangerous wind chills are in the forecast. But if the sun is shining as brightly as it did today, it may still seem tolerable. I like to walk at Riverside which is a shorter trek lately anyway, and it’s on my way to the pool. Either way, I likely won’t be going out until something like 9:30. Swimming will be cold enough. I noticed Monday night that the pool has more pockets of colder than warmer water. Keeps me moving!

Winter Solstice – Before and After

Winter doldrums… Most of these photographs – at least most of the ones with birds in them – are from December 10 on one of my more regular visits to Riverside. There were still passerines to be seen, even if they all fell into the predictable variety. The deep-seated cold had not yet found its way to us. So maybe December looks a little bit better than January…

By an offer of little contrast, for instance, below is a scene of the Des Plaines River on December 10, with the water still open, and below it, one from January 19, which was my last visit – with a lot of ice.

Here is likely the last Hairy Woodpecker I saw, in December.

I haven’t seen the Red-bellied Woodpeckers lately either, although I have heard them on occasion. In the gallery below this photo, the somewhat strange-looking backside photo of the woodpecker flying away at least shows off a red belly, so to speak.

American Robins are around all winter, but I don’t always see them.

Northern Flickers are around in winter too, but even more scarce.

Northern Cardinals are even lying low in the colder weather. The second photo was more recent, and the bird was much farther away.

It was still possible to see flocks of Rock Pigeons flying in December, but no more.

Even the little “snow” birds, Dark-eyed Juncos, are less visible lately. It was unusual to have the second bird sit in one place for three photos.

Black-capped Chickadees are hiding.

One very cold-looking Northern Cardinal

Mallards in December sunshine… and January freeze

Trail time before and after snow and ice…

A splatter of lichen

I always like seeing the Hofmann Tower on my way back.

I managed to photograph the two Mourning Doves on my last visit when we caught each other somewhat off guard. Only a couple months ago, I was seeing eight Mourning Doves. I hope these are not the only two left.

Today we have had lots of fluffy, white snow to deal with. It’s not a deluge but the total accumulation might be around 6 or 7 inches, I shoveled my walk and some of my neighbors’ early this morning in time for the few parents and kids who walk to the elementary school down the block. We got another inch or so after that. At least it’s not blowing around. Next up, we dive into the deep freeze, which will probably postpone my walks for yet another few days. So I will be returning to this space with more from past ventures.

Here’s a few more scenes around Riverside Lawn before the deep freeze.

Last August – Over and Out

Here is my last little offering of photographs from last August. They afford a stark contrast to the present cold January days. We are in the single digits today with a steady creep into the teens. The sun is shining brightly and it’s not too windy, but looks are quite deceiving. It was windy overnight and I woke up in the middle of it, aware that the furnace was running continuously. I turned the indoor temperature down a degree. I am prepared to go out in my long underwear, and I can wear it indoors if need be. My indoor birds will be warm enough. They are delighting in the sunshine anyway.

Below are two less-conventional Cedar Waxwing photos. The second photograph is a juvenile bird.

Here are two adult male Baltimore Orioles and a couple shots of an immature female.

It was nearly always possible to find a goldfinch in the duckweed.

Red-winged Blackbirds were not all that easy to see all summer but they were definitely present. The birds below appear to be juveniles.

Below, a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

And here is a Warbling Vireo. They are frequently heard, but rarely seen at the Portage.

A distant view of a Great Egret on the Des Plaines River.

I haven’t seen one Chipmunk all winter, so I’m glad I caught this one in a rare pose.

I can’t resist juvenile American Robins.

It’s hard to resist a summertime male American Goldfinch too.

I never paid attention to the sticker on the back of the sign below where the Indigo Bunting is sitting with his back toward me – “Tadziu” – but apparently on the Internet there are enough definitions, from the slang “chode equipped moron” to a given name meaning “represents idealism, intuition, romance, generosity, creativity, wisdom and tolerance.” Thanks to the bunting for adding to my vocabulary.

I will be back shortly with the realities of winter. I did manage a walk yesterday morning in Riverside before I went swimming, but it was brief, with more ice than birds. There was a partial thaw the day before, which hardened into slick ice as the temperature fell again. I’m going to settle for grocery shopping today and maybe I can walk tomorrow. There’s always plenty to do at home. I can only put off the chores (I promised myself I would accomplish once I retired) for so long…

The Lakefront and Crows – At Last!

I have been thinking about visiting the Chicago lakefront – specifically the part of it that I used to work near – for months, until it became years, I think, at least as long as the pandemic. And with the distance from it and everything else that has transpired in the interim, I had grown more anxious about the entire prospect. I kept telling myself that it was simply a matter of familiarity gone stale, that there was likely nothing more to fear than before. It involves getting in the car, driving downtown, parking in the underground garage and walking around with the camera. As the prospect for one good sunny weekend day grew closer, I simply decided to go, envisioning the entire process until it felt safe.

So it was a beautiful day indeed. Bright sunshine, cold, yes, but not too windy. Just to commemorate my emergence from the elevator at the south end of the Art Institute I took the skyline snapshot and then I proceeded along Jackson to Grant Park, where I took a distant photo of Buckingham Fountain.

At that point, I had not yet seen nor heard a Crow. Indeed, I had no idea what to expect after so long. I had a sufficient supply of peanuts in my backpack, a few of which I had already moved to my right pocket when a Black-capped Chickadee greeted me from a hedgerow. I cracked open a peanut and left it for him or her and proceeded to walk through the park toward Lake Shore Drive. Then I heard a Crow call, and spotted it as it flew into the trees.

So there you are, I said. To which the Crow said, So there You are. A few peanuts on the ground later, we were engaged in a sort of mutual admiration conversation.

I want to clarify that I never feed wildlife outside of my backyard – except for the downtown park birds which are quite accustomed to handouts. Indeed had it not been for feeding the Crows I would never have gotten to know them at all. The way to a Crow’s heart…to paraphrase the saying.

By the time I got across Lake Shore Drive there were five Crows following me around. I had a feeling they had been waiting for me. As I had been waiting to see them. Either they had heard my thoughts about coming downtown, resonating as I filled the plastic bag with peanuts before I left, or perhaps they had just been reminiscing about The Peanut Lady during one of their roosts … or most likely, due to the boredom of winter, there was nothing else to attract their attention, like a raptor or spring.

I really didn’t see many more birds besides the Crows. There were gulls out on the ice, and Canada Geese, but the lake was frozen making it useless for diving ducks.

The lakefront trail was populated well enough with runners and walkers. I don’t remember taking the photo below as I usually try to avoid photographing people, but I was amused when I found it later.

There was a lot of ice!

Except for the Ring-billed Gull below, I stuck to photographing the Crows who are natural hams in front of the camera.

When I got to the boathouse, the Crows that had been following me around seemed a bit hesitant. It turned out that this was nearing the end of their territory and they didn’t want to share me with the Crows that were closer to the Columbia Yacht Club. I did briefly encounter a couple of the more northerly Crows on the way back. They appeared to be eating some grapes.

But I really have nothing more to offer than a lot of Crow pictures, to make up for all the Crow Posts that I have not been able to produce over the last two years. Although I now intend to visit the lakefront at least once a month and more than likely I will be visiting with Crows, as the days get longer and warmer there should be more of a variety of species.

I walked back through Maggie Daley and Millennium Park and came to about 20 Crows sitting on top of the modern wing of the Art Institute. They all started cawing loudly. Of course I had to leave them a few peanuts. But it was just really fun to receive such an enthusiastic welcome.

Here are a few more of the Crows in the snow and ice. February’s visit might not look all that different but we shall see.

Gazing across the ice toward the Adler Planetarium

This part of the lakefront trail is safe, but there are closures farther north due to ice and waves. As it turned out, the most threatened I felt yesterday had nothing to do with my expedition, but instead was when a driver on my left cut right in front of me from behind, with only a few feet to spare, when there was no other traffic – baffling, as if he or she never saw me to begin with – and this was on the way home about half a mile from my house. Luckily I have brakes and a horn which work, the latter of which I rarely use. I think driving has become more precarious altogether in the last couple of years – perhaps due to the Great Collective Distraction: ____________. Don’t ask which one I’m referring to, you can fill in the blank as needed.

Looking Back to Late August – Part II

There will likely be one more post from earlier in August, as I have discovered a few more interesting photographs. This exercise is somewhat inspired by creating temporary room on my hard drive for my most recent daily recordings with the indoor birds. Everything takes up so much space, it’s all a shell game.

I really like the photograph below, even though it’s not in perfect focus. Sort of tropical looking compared to the way things look lately…

A bee on a Yellow Coneflower…

I think Baltimore Orioles were already becoming scarce after breeding season.