There has been a Lesser Scaup at the Chicago Portage for over a week. I first saw him on March 4 and have seen him on every visit since, including this morning. He seems to be content to hang out and has managed to evade predation. I find him an irresistible subject, even if most of the time he is somewhat far away.
This is a rather long post encapsulating what transpired on my walks at the Portage on the 4th, the 8th and the 10th of March. Immediately below are more photos of the Lesser Scaup from March 4 when I first discovered him.
The 4th was the first time I heard and saw male Red-winged Blackbirds here.
European Starlings are usually way at the top of the trees across the stream from where I am standing, but these two surprised me by being on my side for a change.
Robins are starting to return to the Portage and my neighborhood. They just started singing.
There wasn’t a lot happening on March 4, but it was a sunny day at least.
This young deer was too close and fearless.
Then on March 8, things were a bit more interesting. It started with Downy Woodpeckers chasing around.
I hadn’t gone too far before I saw what I believe to be the local pair of Bald Eagles perched on the electric utility structure. I can’t remember the last time I saw them here but it seems like at least two years.
When I got a bit closer, there was only one eagle perched. I then saw the other flying close by.
It was a beautiful morning.
I kept taking photos of this Red-winged Blackbird as he sang. I don’t know why I have them all here, he didn’t change his position much. But you can hear what he sounded like below.
Song Sparrows could be seen foraging on the ground near the trail.
The Lesser Scaup was present.
On my way out, I encountered three young, lost-looking deer.
And then out on the front lawn, a dead doe that had been ravaged by some beast, likely a coyote. I suspect it was the parent of the three youngsters. I decided to spare you the gorier photos on my cell phone.
As I walked to my car I encountered two Cook County Forest Preserves workers who had come to investigate and clean up. When I drove by about twenty minutes later after running an errand close by, the lawn had been cleared of the carcass.
I began making a connection in my mind between the feeding of the deer and this terrible incident and decided to talk to the man who has been distributing peanuts the next time I saw him.
So I went back to the Portage on March 10. It was a cloudy day and pretty cold.
Sometimes an American Robin will just stare me down.
The Lesser Scaup was still there.
The views that always catch my eye, looking pretty much the same two days later.
An adult Bald Eagle flew over in the distance.
Everybody was down on the ground looking for food, including two White-breasted Nuthatches. I think the one on the tree is a female and the one on the path the male. I wonder if he was going after what looked to me like part of a peanut on the trail.
I was still able to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker.
And a distant Common Merganser was in the Des Plaines River when I walked through the hole in the fence for a quick look.
There’s a grassy area that leads to the parking lot straight off the trail, but I rarely walk through there. I stood and watched from a distance as several American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows foraged. The American Tree Sparrows are directly below.
And here are some Song Sparrows.
For a direct comparison, below is an American Tree Sparrow on the left and two Song Sparrows. Whenever I start to confuse Song Sparrows with other streaky sparrows, I always look for the noticeable dark malar which is in the cheek-throat area.
Squirrels don’t often tempt me to photograph them but this one was available, so I did.
On the way out, the orphans again seemed too close.
One more of the singing Red-winged Blackbird.
As it happens, I did run into the man feeding wildlife on March 10, and talked with him. He did not appear to be feeding at that moment, his hands were in his jacket pockets. He said he was aware of the rules and that once even the Forest Preserve police said to him, “You’re not feeding wildlife, are you? Because if you are I will give you a ticket.” Obviously that didn’t stop him. In fact, he told me he was the one who called the police about the dead doe. He also told me that she had had a broken leg, which he surmised may have been from an automobile encounter. I told him that he wasn’t helping the deer but in fact might be harming them as they have lost their wariness of humans and perhaps other dangers. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said he was only feeding for the next couple weeks, it was going to warm up and they would have new growth to eat. Plus he was running out of peanuts. He also went off on some inane tangent about there being too many deer and wondered if “they” cull them.
So there doesn’t seem to be much one can do about him. If I see a Forest Preserve police I can approach, I will talk try to ask about it, just to enquire, but I suspect they don’t seem to think there’s anything they can do either. The police do not stay long at any location but move around from one to the next, and I don’t think they are interested in sitting around waiting for the peanut feedr to give him a ticket.
Spring presses on. I will be back soon.
I met someone who has been feeding our wild goats. I should have had a conversation with her but I was too timid. I take my hat off to you for engaging with the deer feeder.
I decided to approach him only because I go to the Portage so often, it’s in such a compromised place to begin with, and he has obviously adopted it as his refuge too. The pandemic brought a lot more people to visit and that puts extra pressure on the species that call it home. I felt like I owed it to the place.
Thanks for sharing. Feel bad for the young deer of course.
I liked hearing about the lesser Scaup. Looking forward to your next update on Peanut Man. I need to get over to Portage next week.
Hi, Bob. As of yesterday, the Lesser Scaup was still there. So was Peanut Man although he wasn’t feeding as far as I could tell, and I didn’t see the three young deer, although I was a bit later than usual. Saw the first female Red-winged Blackbirds yesterday.