Pave the Portage?

I visited the Chicago Portage yesterday morning. It was cold and cloudy, but not as cold or windy as today. I decided to stay inside today and wait for the clouds and winds to pass. At least tomorrow promises sunshine.

Cloudy vistas are limited by rooftops in my neighborhood so at least I get to see a bit more of the sky when I visit here.

There were American Robins in the grass close to the parking lot. Although not in focus, I decided to include this photograph which I took when I noticed the Robins sport practically the same colors as my vehicle.

The next bird I barely saw turned out to be an American Tree Sparrow when I lightened up the photos.

The Portage water didn’t appear much different from previous visits.

But it wasn’t long before I noticed that the only other vehicle that had been in the parking lot when I arrived was now on the inside trail across from where I stood. A man had gotten out of it with various and sundry articles including surveying equipment.

While I had stopped to keep my eye on him, some Northern Flickers struck up preliminary courtship behavior in the tree in front of me. The lack of good light makes these photos pretty unspectacular but you can still see the golden shafts.

I approached the incline and noticed a Song Sparrow foraging up at the top of it which put me almost at eye level with the ground.

I didn’t expect to see many birds, so I was not disappointed. The Lesser Scaup I had been seeing was gone. I hope he found his way. There were actually no birds in the water save a pair of Mallards I saw later on the other side. They appear distantly in the photo below

For what it’s worth, the bottomlands by the river are flooded. I didn’t bother to walk on the other side of the hole in the fence.

As I walked around toward the other side, I heard what sounded like Kinglets and then encountered one Golden-crowned Kinglet. Unfortunately the lack of light did not do it any justice at all.

For what it’s worth, I recorded a Purple Finch singing, although I didn’t see it but it was nice to hear.

When I caught up to the man with the surveying equipment, he was marking spots on the unpaved train with bright pink powder. I asked him what he was doing. He responded that he was working. I told him appreciated that, but then asked if he knew why he was doing what he was doing. He responded that they never tell him, but he opined that perhaps they were going to install asphalt over the dirt trail. I surmised “they” is the Cook County Forest Preserves. His “guess” appeared probable.

A Dark-eyed Junco on the existing asphalt trail

My first thought was how the addition of asphalt would interrupt spring migration and perhaps even the breeding season. I was not happy, but I did not take my frustration out on the surveyor who was only doing his job. We exchanged the proverbial “have a nice day.”

I started wondering if perhaps this was inspired by the additional visitors that this place has attracted over the length of the pandemic. And then I started envisioning more bikes coming through. I suppose asphalting this portion of the trail would also make it more wheelchair accessible, which is a noble endeavor, but I am still not happy. However, it occurred to me that I resented the pavement extending from both entrances and new bridges that were put in years ago, and somehow, the birds and the plants have survived.

Obviously the birds would rather have gravel than asphalt. I thought about getting myself over to the Portage this morning to talk with the volunteers about all this but concluded that they are powerless and possibly clueless as they might not know any more than the surveyor did. I will be going back often enough to see what actually happens.

The American Tree Sparrow before it flew down to the gravel path

There was a period of sunshine and a distant Cooper’s Hawk against the bluer sky.

I managed to capture a Downy Woodpecker looking dapper.

On the way out I barely captured a White-breasted Nuthatch.

I conclude with one in-focus American Robin. I will be back eventually with more developments on this story and in the meantime with a little historical fare.

3 thoughts on “Pave the Portage?

  1. Well you did better than I. The cold dreary weather derailed my efforts to visit Portage late this week. Earlier in the week I had seen the Cooper’s hawk. I have not seen an American tree sparrow this year. Your perspective on the role of the surveyor makes sense. I have always enjoyed my walks at Portage, because for so long no one seemed to know about it. The pandemic did indeed seem to draw out more visitors to open air environs. More bikes (and I am a bike rider) could change the area. But, I realize it was not developed for my needs alone. Yet, I do look forward to more walks there and to spring migration. Also, I guess I’m having a hard time thinking that the surveyor did not know why he was working there. Wondering if it is the response he is told to offer. As you said time will tell.

    • I’m sorry you keep missing the American Tree Sparrows. Actually the largest group I saw was a week or two ago when you were likely still south. I was surprised to see a couple still around yesterday. The surveyor said people always ask him why he is doing a certain thing and he always tells them he only knows to do the work, but I can’t think of any other reason in this case except a paved path. I just hope they don’t pave the remaining gravel path. I think it’s too hilly to consider. I haven’t been over to Montrose in ages, and apparently they put a paved path in there too. As for the Portage, change seems to be the mantra lately. Last year it was removal of the monument, such as it was. But I forgot to mention that just as I was walking in, I flushed about 40 Red-winged Blackbirds that were in the grass under the trees before what I consider the first bridge. And even with all the visitors last year there were at least a dozen breeding pairs of Indigo Buntings if not more. So it goes.

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