Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski

After all the Sandhill Cranes I saw flying overhead last week, it was evident that they were finally on the move. It has been years since I have been to Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area near Medaryville, Indiana – about a two-hour drive – to see the Sandhill Cranes that have been feeding in the surrounding farm fields all day before congregating at sundown in a field visible from an observation platform, before heading off to the marsh for the evening. The birds are counted in the morning in the wetland area before they disperse. As an example, on November 21 their numbers were around 13,000. One week later, on the 28th, they were counted at nearly 33,000. It was definitely time to go see them. I was joined by my friend Lesa, and we drove to Jasper-Pulaski on Thursday to watch the cranes come in.

When we first arrived around 3:00 P.M., it was still light and a small group was gathering in a field not far from the viewing platform.

The forecast was for cloudy skies, but it was relatively warm for this place where the winds can whip you into a frozen shivering mass, so even if it wasn’t perfect for photographs it was easier to stand and watch for a couple hours. As the clouds came in, so did the cranes.

And they kept coming.

I managed silhouetted views at best when a few cranes flew over a bit closer to the platform.

More cranes gathered at a distance. It was a little easier to focus in this light.

Then as more started to come in, it was the beginning of a spectacle. I took a couple videos toward the end of our visit to capture the sound of the cranes calling. There’s wind noise too.

In a brief sunlit sequence I managed to capture some of the color of these birds flying over.

It’s really hard to convey or capture the numbers of birds as they streamed in from all directions.

I tried to capture the size of the flock as it began to assemble before it got too dark.

Four individuals on the ground were a little closer, if in poor light.

More cranes coming in for a landing

One more video, mainly for the sound and sight of all those birds coming in from farther away.

So as it got darker, and more birds came in, it got harder and harder to photograph them, but that didn’t stop me.

Then I tried to capture the sunset, something I don’t get to see very often unless I drive far away. There are a few cranes against the clouds in the first photo.

Thanks to Lesa’s Garmin on her phone, we got home safely. My cell phone has been acting strangely the last week or two, indicating it wants to be replaced. I took its final hint seriously when it refused to provide a map to drive back. If not for Lesa’s Garmin, we might still be driving around the farm fields trying to find our way out. I ordered a new phone yesterday.

I will be back with more local observations soon. We are experiencing a rainy period which is giving me some time to do more posting. It’s been a good week. Ah yes, and it’s Saturday night as I sign off, which means it’s time for the weekly living room cleanup.

Persistence at the Portage

My last two visits to the Chicago Portage this past week have been pretty quiet. It’s getting harder to find the flock, if you will. But the walk still fortifies my spirit. The photos in this brief post are from November 23 and November 25.

November 23rd was sunny

Inevitably a Black-capped Chickadee will make itself heard if not immediately seen. But without leaves on the trees it’s getting harder to hide, and they don’t really try to hide anyway. I call them my Greeter Birds.

The American Goldfinches have been better at hiding lately, but I am beginning to see more of them at my thistle feeders.

I don’t know what happened to the rest of this Dark-eyed Junco

Northern Cardinals are good at concealing themselves as well.

A small group of Mallards has been hanging out.

When I thought I’d seen everything, I heard and then saw about 30 Sandhill Cranes fly over.

After trying to capture the cranes which were soon obscured as they flew over the trees, I looked down from the sky and saw an Eastern Bluebird pop into view.

Also present was a White-breasted Nuthatch who gave me the evil eye, and then the “Go-Away” look.

Yesterday, the 25th, the cloud cover was what my mother would have called “glismal.” Also, being the last Saturday of the month, the volunteers were busy sawing and burning on the trail that leads to the bridge near Harlem, so I didn’t walk in that way.

We seem to always be discussing American Robins now and how they tend to disappear. However, there was a flock of about 40 of them when I first arrived, if by the time I left there were only a few individuals remaining.

My photos revealed a distant Hairy Woodpecker.

I sometimes hear more Dark-eyed Juncos than I see. This one was barely visible but I like the photo anyway.

Also foraging in the vegetation were some American Tree Sparrows. I was happy to see them even if it was hard to capture them clearly.

This visit I had a cooperative Greeter Bird.

Later in the day, the sun came out, but I was already busy with housework. I noticed the Fullersburg Limpkin was reported by several observers.

Today it was snowing all morning and predicted to continue practically until dusk, which will seem much sooner and darker in the cloud cover. I just marked my calendar for the Christmas Bird Count on December 16th. The immediate forecast is for below freezing temperatures tomorrow. I’m glad I have located my long underwear.

A Visit to Miller Meadow

I joined Henry Griffin and some of the Oak Park Bird Walkers yesterday morning for a tour of Miller Meadow, where I haven’t been for some time. It’s generally a good place to see hawks and yesterday it was also a good place to be for Sandhill Crane migration. Thanks to Henry for leading this walk. Our spirits were warm.

Right away we saw two Red-tailed Hawks which were likely local residents who had come to check up on us. I managed to capture one was it flew over.

We had barely started walking when we spotted a distant Coyote (gray), and something else huddled on the ground which turned out to be another Coyote (red).

Then the gray Coyote walked over to the red one and started, well, fooling around, if you will. She tolerated his overture but didn’t seem too interested. He wandered off after that. The sequence of contact between the two is captured below.

Right about then we heard and saw our first groups of Sandhill Cranes flying over. Henry kept a tally and counted 320 total flying over while we were there.

The cranes just kept coming. We were on the lookout for Whooping Cranes but there were none with these flocks.

Our last group was four individuals that seemed to be a bit lost. They were not flying consistently southeast. But eventually they disappeared, so I can only hope they joined a larger flock, perhaps, and found their way.

Other birds seen briefly included a few American Tree Sparrows, one of which I barely captured as it flew from a brief perch.

I missed seeing a Pine Siskin because I could not resist observing a couple American Crows that flew over.

The most visible bird was a Red-bellied Woodpecker that seemed to live up to its name.

Here’s a distant photo of a Cooper’s Hawk flying over…

and a Downy Woodpecker, for good measure.

It’s cold and I’m not quite used to it yet. I went over to the Chicago Portage this morning and it was cloudy, but not too windy, which I guess is good because the volunteers were burning vegetation they had cleared. I will be back with a little roundup of what I’ve seen there in the past few days. Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow morning, and the beginning of the coming week looks to be very cold, with highs below freezing.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to cleaning the living room tonight because I’ll be warmer doing it, and then no doubt I will eating another variation on leftovers, the holiday having given me the inspiration to make stuffing and cook another butternut squash.

Limpkin, O Limpkin

For the record, I drove to Fullersburg Monday morning with the intent of looking One More Time for the Limpkin. After parking, I opened the hatchback of my car and found my backpack in its usual spot, but No Camera. This was the second or third time in the past week I have forgotten something and gone back for it. I have gone so far as to put a post-it on the front door to remind me of things I might be taking with me, but what good was it if I didn’t look at it?

When I returned the second time with the camera, it was already 10:10. I took the long way along the Riverbend Trail to the Rainbow Bridge where the Limpkin has been seen so often. That was a bit of extra walking. When I reached the famous bridge, no one else was there. I scanned the riverbanks and saw no Limpkin.

I started to walk a little dirt footpath that runs along the river on the other side of the bridge and much to my surprise, I saw something with white spots sitting in the tangle of branches that were as brown as the rest of it was. I had found the Limpkin. This was not how I wanted to see the bird, but after two unsuccessful visits, I had to stick around for a little while.

I began by talking softly to it (why do we do these things?) apologizing for my presence, but taking photos. You can see the second photo where the bird closed its eye as if to say “if I stop looking at you, will you disappear?” When I didn’t disappear, it was patient after that for the most part and endured my taking photos. I couldn’t find a spot that was a little farther away to capture the entire bird, so I finally decided to go back out onto the bridge to see if I could find it in the tangle from that perspective and maybe see if it would come out and do something.

When I relocated the Limpkin from the bridge and started taking photos, I realized it was only because I knew where it had to be that I was finding it because it was pretty well hidden. This is in contrast to others who have seen it and posted photos where the bird is out in the open, capturing mussels and snails and eating them. You’ll have to use your imagination about that, or else go lookup Fullersburg Woods on ebird and check their pictures.

Shortly after I found the Limpkin and started trying to get some photos, two men, and then a third, came onto the bridge. I told them where the Limpkin was, and we exchanged stories for a short time. It turns out that it was my third attempt and also one of the others’ third attempts, so we had that in common.

The Limpkin was not interested in coming out from its hiding place.

I don’t think the Limpkin was too happy with me pointing it out to other people. It finally managed to disappear into the thickness of the branches. I will not go back again to find this bird. I was content with reporting it once with photos so that everyone would know it was still there. I guess it will just boil down to enough birders keeping track of its occurrence until it leaves. I think a lot of people assumed it might start leaving because of the drop in temperature. But it hadn’t become cold enough to freeze the water yet, and for as long as this bird has been around, there may be no incentive to leave as long as it is feeding well.

It wasn’t feeding while I was there. I got the impression that it had done its foraging and feeding earlier and was taking a well-deserved rest.

A few brief captures of other birds seen that day. There weren’t many at all and the cloud cover made it even less interesting.

Looking back briefly on the two previous visits to Fullersburg, on 11-17, all I photographed was fungus.

On 11-15, there was a young Red-tailed Hawk.

For what it’s worth, it was good to reacquaint myself with Fullersburg Woods. I also got to meet up with a friend I haven’t seen in a long time, and that was very special. I likely won’t be going back soon, though. The temperatures are dropping into the freezing zone and snow is in the forecast for Sunday. I hope the Limpkin finds a more southerly location soon. As of this writing, a lot of people saw it today.

There are a lot of other places I haven’t been in a while and maybe I should just start checking them out every now and then.

View looking upstream from the Rainbow Bridge

To those of you who are celebrating, best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving. People who have been asking me what I’m doing for Thanksgiving seemed delighted when I told them I am staying home with my 40 birds. I must admit we are having a beautiful day. I went out earlier to the Chicago Portage and it was quiet, but not entirely without birds. I’ve been cooking this afternoon, so the kitchen is warm. The sun is shining and that always makes the birds especially happy. I’ll be back soon.

Ramblings in Riverside

I have been a bit preoccupied lately. My routine visits to Riverside have fallen off a bit, but I’ve been meaning to get caught up with some previous ones, so here are a few photos from November 1, 3 and 6. The days were getting shorter, the nights were colder, the number of birds has dropped off and their absence is made that much more noticeable with the leaves falling from the trees.

So I have been tempted to chase after another Limpkin about 100 people have seen by now at Fullersburg Woods in DuPage County, but for sure the two times I went there last week I never saw it. You might ask why I bother at all after finding the one that was at McGinnis Slough, but this one has been closer to the Rainbow Bridge which is easy to stand on and view from, so everybody’s getting great photos and the photographer in me was frustrated, to say the least. This is a bird that should be easy to photograph simply from the standpoint of being rather large and rather sedentary. I almost drove over there after singing in the choir Sunday morning. It would have been a good day – sunny, warmer, a lot of people saw the bird and it didn’t seem to be bothered by the crowd, if you will. But I did not go. Instead, I have found this is not too far to travel if I’m also going swimming, so that was my plan to try again yesterday, albeit in cloudy, cooler weather. The Fullersburg Limpkin story is To Be Continued.

Back to Riverside on November 1. It was a pretty day,

Des Plaines River

I was pleased to see a Great Blue Heron still around.

It was probably the last time I saw a couple Turkey Vultures.

And a couple Fox Sparrows were available.

I managed to barely capture a Northern Cardinal and a White-throated Sparrow as they were trying to hide in less leaf cover.

November 3 was a lot less sunny.

House Finches were foraging here and there.

House Finches and a Dark-eyed Junco behind the police/fire station
A House Finch and an American Robin

A Black-capped Chickadee stayed still long enough.

And an American Goldfinch blended into the background.

Things weren’t any livelier on the 6th.

The most interesting birds were a couple tagged Canada Geese. I have seen 64H before and my certificate says he is a Large Canada Goose banded on July 7, 2015. I thought I had seen 68B too but I don’t have a certificate for it, so I just submitted the sighting to get the information on that bird.

There were enough geese to get into an argument.

I managed to barely zoom in on a Cooper’s Hawk flying over.

It was a day when a little fungus became quite attractive.

When I got home after swimming, I took a walk around the yard. It was warm enough for a few bees to be in the later blooming asters. Most everything else has gone to seed.

In the front yard, a grass that I have to identify strikes a delicate pose by the front sidewalk, and the Joe Pye Weed has gone to seed as well.

The sedum in back takes on fall color, and there are tufts of spent tall ironweed everywhere.

I wonder if the drought had something to do with the quality of the berries on my hawthorn tree. No one has been interested in eating them. By now the tree has lost all its leaves but the berries remain. Very mysterious,

I know you can’t stand the suspense, so I will be back very soon with a report from yesterday’s quest for the Fullersburg Limpkin. For now, suffice it to say I did find it.

Early November at the Chicago Portage

It’s a beautiful, sunny day today and I would be out looking for birds this morning, except that the heat didn’t come on this morning, so I am staying home waiting for the person who installed it to come and figure out why and fix it. So far I tried the usual quick checks to no avail. Thankfully, the sun pouring through the living room windows helps, and I have a great space heater which I brought down from the attic. I may as well write this post I’ve been thinking about since last Saturday’s visit to the Chicago Portage.

You have to walk for quite a while before you hear a bird or see any activity these days. The birds are feeding in flocks, and you either find the flock, or you don’t. It’s easier to pay more attention to the landscape.

And the change in flora…


…and yet almost miss who’s sharing the space next to you.

There were some birds on Thursday, November 2nd. American Goldfinches have been busy foraging for seeds. Black-capped Chickadees never hesitate to at least say hello.

A Mallard in the duckweed

There was a distant White-breasted Nuthatch.

It was still possible to see a Yellow-rumped Warbler here and there.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers will be easier to see than this one which was in the shadows.

There were several Golden-crowned Kinglets.

On Saturday, the 4th, it was another sunny day without much indication of much happening, until I found a feeding frenzy.

There were several Orange-crowned Warblers.

And an American Tree Sparrow or two.

The camera found one Swamp Sparrow.

And a Hermit Thrush.

More Mallards in the duckweed.

Then an unexpected warbler popped up in front of me before I could focus properly. The bright yellow throat reminded me of a Northern Parula which is what it turned out to be. I got one better photograph, which is the sideview at the top of this post.

Also a surprise, and apparently late for this date, was at least one if not two Tennessee Warblers.

The bird in the photograph below looks like it could go either way, but I’m calling it a Tennessee Warbler and not an Orange-crowned. This photograph was not numerically close to the other series.

It has since been very slow at the Portage, and it’s even harder with the distraction of leaves falling off the trees. But it’s good to get out and savor the quiet moments too, while they last. I hope to try go back tomorrow morning after the heat comes on.

I may be tempted to bake a loaf of bread today. A little temporary warmth in the kitchen might be welcome.

Fall Walks at Columbus Park

I am late getting around to a roundup of the three visits the Oak Park Bird Walkers managed at Columbus Park. The fourth was rained out and never rescheduled. In spite of all that, I am only including photos from the first two visits because there are too many to include from all three: I will follow up with the third visit later.

Larger birds dominated the visit on September 2. At first we had a young Black-crowned Night-Heron perched in a tree.

And then a bit later, a Cooper’s Hawk.

The first bird we were barely able to identify turned out to be an Eastern Phoebe when I checked my photos later.

Not seeing a lot of birds, we did have some insect activity in the wildflower garden.

I happened to stop by the Chicago Portage afterward and saw an Osprey…

Two weeks later on the 16th, back at Columbus Park, it was a different story. There were a lot more birds. And a lot more photographs. We were seeing some warblers.

Bay-breasted Warbler

By far the most prevalent warbler was Blackpoll Warbler. The photos below are of a few different individuals.

Beyond warblers, there were other migrants.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

And not so migratory, but interesting anyway, a Blue Jay and a Northern Flicker posed nicely for me.

The star of the morning for me was a Philadelphia Vireo, also at the top of this post. We don’t see them quite so often. For comparison, the third photo below is of a Warbling Vireo.

Still early in thrush migration, we were seeing Swainson’s Thrushes.

We actually started off the morning with a young Red-tailed Hawk, but I saved it for later.

At some point, we spotted the Great Blue Heron that frequents this body of water.

It’s been busy lately. Halloween has come and gone, and I was gratified to find most of the snacks-and-candy offering gone as well. Choir performances are piling up as our voices grow stronger with them. Birding has offered a few surprises which seem that much more dramatic just when you feel like so many birds have gone, only to realize there are still some fascinating individuals among us. It’s a reminder that it’s always about the bird in front of me. Whenever I get that unanswerable question – “what’s your favorite bird?” – the only answer can be “the one I’m looking at right now.”

Recently in Riverside

Two walks in Riverside, 10/18 and 10/23. One morning sunny, the other less so. Fall leaves and the sparrows that fade into them start to dominate.

There wasn’t a big change in the trees until after the 23rd, which is the second photo, but for the record, here they were changing.

For a couple days, I was seeing more White-crowned Sparrows. Views directly below are of an adult, and below that, a first-winter bird.

I try not to take White-throated Sparrows for granted. I feel a kinship with them.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were becoming less frequent.

A young Red-tailed Hawk was considering its options, perched in a tree close to the water.

I dare to think the two birds below might be Rusty Blackbirds. There’s a hint of a light-colored eye in the bird on the left.

Sometimes it’s easier to see White-breasted Nuthatches these days.

A Great Blue heron was fluffing out all its feathers.

On 10/23, I was treated to a good look of a Fox Sparrow.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets have been here and there.

The rocks in the river by the shore were still somewhat of a draw for this American Robin.

Dark-eyed Juncos were beginning to appear more frequently.

Here are a few more photos of White-throated Sparrows. The ones with the white median crown stripe, like the bird at the top of the post, are less frequently seen.

I don’t always get a chance to see or photograph a Northern Cardinal, however ubiquitous they seem.

I may have seen two Great Blue Herons on the 18th, but for the most part I have seen just one and one Great Egret since. I will check tomorrow to see if one or the other is still around, but I have a feeling the cold front we are now experiencing may have sent both birds packing.

I spent the last two days draining 50 gallons of water out of my rain barrels. That’s how many gallon bottles I had available to fill. There’s still a lot of water in both barrels so I have set them on slow drip, but I will have to empty them out tomorrow night as we dip into sustained freezing temperatures. As for the water I saved, I will use it to fill the heated birdbaths all winter.

I also harvested the rest of the peppers this morning. There are a lot more jalapeños this year. In lieu of a cold, gloomy, rain-threatened walk this morning, I also made a pot of Ecuadorian Quinoa Vegetable Soup. I feel fortified for the cold days ahead.

Riverside Minute

I was going to combine some photos from a few previous visits to Riverside into one post, and I hope to do that eventually, but right now here is a quick recap of my walk this morning. It was cloudy, very quiet and I saw very few birds. I hardly heard even the Blue Jays. But the trees were beautiful.

I did have a nice moment with the Dark-eyed Junco at the top of the post.

On the other side of the Joliet Avenue bridge south of the Hofmann Tower, I spotted a Great Egret and a Double-crested Cormorant. I looked for the Great Blue Heron but it was not present.

Also at the tower were the Rock Pigeons doing flight drills.

The Great Egret decided to move closer to where the dam once was.

And I barely captured a Mallard flying by.

I saw a Mourning Dove land in a tree.

I could barely see a Downy Woodpecker.

I took two views of the foot bridge.

The trees in Riverside Lawn were towering in color.

When I got back to the Joliet Avenue Bridge, I checked to see if the Great Blue Heron was in its new favorite spot by the old dam. This is where it has been for the last couple weeks.

I will be back soon with more from Riverside. I am leaving soon to see a play tonight. There might be a little sunshine tomorrow. We have a couple more days above freezing with rain predicted all day Sunday. I suspect the leaves will have all fallen soon.

Fall Colors

As promised, here are photos from Thursday morning at the Chicago Portage. I am also including photos from October 13th which was a very cloudy day: I just discovered that I must not have reviewed these photos previously as they remained unprocessed until now.

Thursday there was a bit more light, but the number of birds present was nominal. There were Yellow-rumped Warblers, but not too many of them.

There were a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

House Finches seem to be popping up here and there. They are not migrants but I don’t always see them.

I found a couple Orange-crowned Warblers. One very backlit and the other, blending in with the leaves.

Here are a few more Yellow-rumped Warbler photos.

Sparrow migration is here. I spotted a distant first-winter White-crowned Sparrow.

And a couple White-throated Sparrows.

Swamp Sparrows were everywhere.

Back to October 13, when the cloud cover subdued every view.