Chicago Portage in the Snow

I fully intended to go out for a walk at the Chicago Portage Saturday morning before more snow was predicted to fall. I was completely dressed and ready to go out the door when I made the mistake of checking the weather app on my phone: it indicated snow was starting in fifteen minutes. Since the weather app on my phone has been somewhat inaccurate, I went to my laptop to double-check with the Weather Channel and even more snow was predicted, along with confirmation from the radar. I decided not to take the chance.

Then, almost two hours later, I noticed it was not snowing, so I decided to go for a walk at the Portage anyway, come what may. Upon arrival, I noticed the parking lot had several cars, and it wasn’t until I got out of mine that I was soon reminded of the reason why, it being the last Saturday of the month. The volunteers were at work.

Since it takes a while before I find any birds to photograph these days, the landscape takes precedence.

But then, to interrupt the stillness for a moment at least, a Red-tailed Hawk flew over.

After that I had some clear if distant views of a Red-bellied Woodpecker…

and a White-breasted Nuthatch.

From time to time I have heard of seen Black-capped Chickadees lately, and Saturday was no exception, even if this was my only opportunity to capture one.

The sun tried to emerge from the clouds for moment.

A different view but probably of the same nuthatch, who is also represented at the top of the post.

And I’m including this photo of the Red-bellied Woodpecker because even though most of his body is obscured it shows off his red belly.

A peek at the Des Plaines River, and another view of the Portage stream.

Claiming their own place in the snow on the trail, I noticed two burdock seed pods.

The American Tree Sparrows have been hanging out in the middle of the marshy area, a little bit more visible from the inside trail.

Below is a view of nothing but the typical landscape in the marshy area which I suspect hides more birds than I see on any visit.

Also off the inside trail, but on the other side of it, I managed to find an American Goldfinch, and…

a male House Finch. The lack of light didn’t help.

An added bonus lately has been seeing and hearing White-throated Sparrows. I heard one singing for a short spell on Saturday.

Well-hidden but not far from the trail was a young White-tailed Deer.

By the time I got back to my car, it was snowing in earnest, so I decided to take this snowy shot of the back of the statue.

Now that I can no longer use snow as an excuse for staying home, I decided I can’t use single-digit temperatures as an excuse either. I went out yesterday and this morning, and managed to wield the camera and the lens somehow with double-gloved hands.

The hardest thing is going to be acclimating myself to an earlier rise. I have been taking full advantage of winter weather by sleeping in, but as the days grow longer and eventually warmer, I will have to amend my sleepy ways. I have been waking up to some intricately interesting if stupid dreams, but none of them have proved to be memorable beyond the first minute or two.

I will likely be back with more snow, more clouds, more sun, more birds…and an eventual update on the home flocks inside and out.

In Spite of the Clouds

I haven’t been out for a walk the past two days, due to snow of one sort or another. I did manage a few visits last week in the gloom. These photos are all from Riverside, starting with January 18.

it was warmer last week and from time to time there were Canada Geese.

Any bird who sits still long enough to be photographed gets my attention.

There were geese on the lawn by the library.

And then I noticed a lot of American Tree Sparrows in the grass as well.

But then after I crossed the footbridge and started to walk the trail nearest the river in Riverside Lawn, I spotted a Winter Wren.

Seeing I was paying attention to the Winter Wren, a Carolina Wren came out to pose for me. This happened the last time I saw these two characters. I was also happy to hear a vocalization from the Carolina Wren that was new for me. I hope I remember it next time I hear it.

Fitting in with all the brown birds, a Mallard hen standing in a shallow spot.

And I saw 64H again. That may have been the last time I saw him.

My next visit on January 20 was much gloomier.

But there was a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the river that made up for the gloom.

I barely caught the Belted Kingfisher in flight and then managed to find it perched later with its back to me.

Backlit gloom did no favors for this White-breasted Nuthatch.

On January 23, there were at least 100 Canada Geese by the footbridge. I couldn’t stuff them all into one frame.

The light wasn’t good enough to capture a Downy Woodpecker in focus, but he brightened up the gloom anyway.

I saw the Belted Kingfisher again. He was quite far away.

A Northern Cardinal was my consolation prize.

It’s been quiet, getting colder, and we are about to dip into the deep freeze. The snow so far hasn’t been too much of a problem as the temperature has been just above freezing most of the time, but it looks like the next few days we will have more snow to deal with in addition to the cold. Such is winter.

Looking forward to singing Sunday morning. It will be just sopranos and altos. We’re singing a lovely little song in Italian and I am looking forward to rolling my r’s.

More winter birds on the way. Hard to believe we’re almost done with January.

More Sunshine?

Apparently I lied in my last post, because as far as I can tell from these pictures, January 10 was sunny as well. At least it was sunny early when I was at the Chicago Portage, and although I did not see very many birds, the visit was still fairly interesting.

Here’s how everything looked when I walked in. It was very quiet.

And then, not too far along the trail, I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a tree on the other side of the stream. Its presence could have explained at least some of the quiet.

On closer inspection, I noticed it had prey – and that turned out to be a Gray Squirrel.

I think the hawk was flushed from its perch by the man I think of as Mr. Peanut (I think our friend George once referred to him as Peanut Pete, but I don’t know his real name) who was walking the inside trail behind it, because when I encountered “Mr. Peanut” walking in the opposite direction he asked me if I saw “that big hawk”. But I’m sure the hawk hadn’t been too happy with me paying such close attention to it either.

Below is one more photo from the previous series – perhaps you can see the squirrel in the hawk’s talons a little easier.

After that, everything else was less exciting. However, the moss and lichen caught my interest in the sunshine.

A female Downy Woodpecker was busy in the deeply furrowed bark of a cottonwood.

I was trying to follow some movement on the ground for a while before I finally saw the face of a Fox Sparrow. Then the sparrow flew up and perched – and sat and stared at me, as they seem to like to do – but it was too backlit for a great photo.

The Northern Cardinals have not been terribly shy lately. I qualify that, though, by noting these photos were taken at some distance.

It appears it was cold enough that morning for the shallower water to be frozen over, eliminating the possibility of waterfowl. However, looking back on the weather for that day, we got up to 51 degrees at some point and the next day, although totally cloudy, was even a bit warmer. All that is over now, however. We are due for some cold weather in addition to snow.

Waking up to light snow this morning, I’m taking a day off from birding, but there were a few birds in the yard that I managed to capture after I swept off the walks, and I’ll keep the camera loaded for any future opportunities. It’s not snowing heavily yet but it looks like that could change. I like the snow. It’s pretty. It feels warmer because of the humidity. And it’s a little brighter than the constant cloud cover.

I’ll be back later with a few images I coaxed out from the gloom.

One Sunny Morning

Sunshine is at such a premium these days, I can only remember one or two sunny mornings. One of them was this past Sunday, but I was inside, singing with the choir. It was a wonderful experience, however, made that much more special by our guest soloist, tenor Sean Harris. The energy he brought to our collective performance was palpable. The light of that occasion has kept me going through ensuing dark mornings all week.

These photos are all from the sunniest day of the month so far, January 9, in Riverside. The first bird I saw was 64H. Below his photo is the certificate I received from the USGS the same day I reported seeing him. Since he is at least 8 years old and I nearly always see him alone, I have imagined a rather sad story. I suspect it is likely he lost his mate and is waiting for someone like her to accompany him.

Some Mallards were enjoying a nap in the sunshine.

There may not have been a lot of birds, but those I could photograph were so much easier to focus on with light. What a concept.

When trying to photograph the Common Goldeneyes, sunshine was the problem.

After what seemed like several weeks, the American Robins were back.

Even this Northern Cardinal didn’t seem to mind posing for me. I guess he figured the pictures would come out pretty good with all that sunshine.

I saw 64H again later on the grass. Then a few more Canada Geese came in for a landing.

That was it for sunshine. Except for a rainy day or two, I have gone out in the mornings and have seen birds every time, in spite of the endless clouds. There’s no sunshine in the foreseeable future, but I will try to be back sooner with a more recent report.

First Crow Post of 2023

Last weekend I was determined not to let another cloudy day deter me from having some fun, so on Sunday morning I drove downtown to visit the American Crows on the Chicago lakefront – armed with peanuts in the shell and a fresh batch of Crows Favorite Cookies I had baked the day before.

Since Crows always know ahead of time what is bound to happen, it didn’t take long for my followers to find me. But when I first rode the elevator up to street level from the underground parking garage, the sky was not inviting.

Yet within a moment or two I saw two Crows flying overhead. I crossed Columbus Drive and entered that section of Grant Park just north of Buckingham Fountain that does not have its own name, as far as I can tell. But it has a statue and a garden and other features that differentiate it from some of the other sections. Unfortunately those features did not invite photographs in the winter gloom.

Grant Park, north of Buckingham Fountain

I was soon joined by one Crow.

And within half a moment I had three – then four – Crows coming to see me.

It had occurred to me that photographing black birds on a gray day was not going to be fruitful, but the Crows gave me plenty of opportunities anyway.

The first Crow seemed to remember the cookies. But the others went for the peanuts initially. There was one Crow who decided to approach a piece of cookie by first jumping back from it in case it was a trap – or a bomb – and when the cookie did not attack it, the Crow bravely took the sample.

I took too many photographs of the Crows, but I haven’t visited with them for a year, so I couldn’t help myself. I just have to visit the lakefront more often this year.

A Crow observing a Gray Squirrel who went straight for the cookie

It was time to cross Jean Baptiste Dusable Lake Shore Drive and move toward the lakefront. The Crows came with me.

I should perhaps mention that the Crows were cawing in the key of B minor which matched the music playing in my head. I take for granted that they read my thoughts, but I had forgotten they also seem to be able to listen in on my ear worms.

Crows are great birds to feed, in no small part because they are fastidious in gathering their food and carrying it off to stash for later consumption. No mess!

At some point I noticed the sun was trying to come out from behind the clouds.

Once I was at the lakefront, the Crows followed me a bit but did not go beyond the Chicago Yacht Club. Unlike my visit last year, I had only about 8 Crows total this time with no others north of the yacht club at Monroe Harbor. So I brought home the extra cookies and peanuts. Cookies for me, peanuts for the squirrels.

There were not a lot of birds in and around the lake but I had a nice walk and it was just good to be on the lakefront again.

Monroe Harbor

At least I got to see a couple Red-breasted Mergansers for a change.

Sunshine, which had been absent all week, began to return by the time I was already on my way home. The next day, Monday, was The Sunny Day of the Week. Tomorrow, we are promised, sunshine returns. It will be colder than it has been, but it is January. I will likely visit the Chicago Portage.

I have more of the usual local visits to report and will be back. Looking forward to singing with the choir Sunday morning. Our three selections are all in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

2023 Begins

Gray day after gray day. The year got off to a gloomy start. But I am happy to report today was mostly sunny, tomorrow will be as well, and even yesterday afternoon – after I got back from a visit to the lakefront – the sun had broken through the clouds. So I hope to be sharing sunnier-looking reports with you soon.

That said, these photos are from visits to Riverside on January 2 and 4.

On the 2nd, perhaps most interesting was observing a disagreement between two Mallard drakes. The one on the right is the interloper. You can see the progression of their little spat by advancing the slide show. The guy on the left was eventually successful in defending his territory and saw the challenger off into the water.