Disconnected

I woke up yesterday morning to no internet connection. After spending an hour or so on the phone with my service provider it was determined that I need a new gateway router. It was shipped this morning so with luck I will receive it soon.

I birded Riverside Lawn yesterday and this morning I was at the Chicago Portage. There were plenty of birds yesterday, but today at the Portage was exceptionally quiet. The entire focus switched to leaves. I met two fall enthusiasts on their way out and we admired leaf colors.

I will see if I can manage to finish what was to be my next post with my cellphone and if so, it will follow shortly. Alternatively I can do more work in the yard and maybe read a good book.

The Zebra Finch that was just singing perched on my head left when I tried to record a video of him so that’s out. Either way I hope to be back soon.

Fall Walks at Thatcher Woods

I am back from the land of afternoon naps with a short segment.

We’ve had two Saturday morning walks at Thatcher Woods in River Forest, and we will have our final fall migration walk there on October 8. It’s been pretty quiet the last few weeks, but I did manage some photographs of a few birds, so here they are.

Basically, the Red-tailed Hawk was the only bird I captured doing anything on September 10.

Then on our last visit on September 24, the first of season bird of the walk – and for several of us, first of the year – was this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker who was perched somewhat distantly in a tree. This was likely the best long look I will get this year so I took too many photographs. I have since seen a few more of this species but have not been able to photograph them. For me, the placement of white on the wing quickly distinguishes this bird from other woodpeckers.

I must have had a few long moments to photograph the Red-tailed Hawk.

Also notable on the 24th, but impossible to capture well with the camera, were 34 Northern Flickers foraging on the lawn. We didn’t dare bother them by getting any closer.

A murder of about 20 crows flew overhead, which was beautiful to see. I could only capture a few, but to me there is nothing like a crow in flight.

Here are a few more of the sapsucker.

On our last visit we saw some Yellow-rumped Warblers by the parking lot, and after the walk I stayed a moment to get a few photographs.

Here are a few more of the Red-tailed Hawk.

Our last walk at Columbus Park is tomorrow morning. I have much more to report, it’s just been a busy week and I’ve been too tired to sustain many thoughts. I will try harder to be “back” at least while there’s still some activity before winter sets in. Then the birds will be fewer but somewhat easier to see, perhaps. Best to expect the unexpected.

The Other Goose Lake and Beyond

On Tuesday morning, I made it up to the Hebron Trail in a little over an hour and a half. I didn’t leave quite as early as planned; I woke up to some sort of a circuit-breaker issue in the kitchen which had disabled my Internet access but it was a temporary fix after all and it became more a matter of resetting clocks on the coffee pot and microwave and WFMT on the boombox.

As I started to write this yesterday, we were experiencing a lovely downpour. When I went to empty out places where rain accumulates later it looked like we got an inch in about 20 minutes.

Even though Goose Lake Natural Area has received more rain and is no longer considered in drought status, the water levels are still extremely low and that continues to make it really hard to see Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I walked the trail to the lookout, and stood there for maybe a half hour or so, not seeing too much of anything. I thought how nice it would be if a Yellow-headed Blackbird came close enough to the platform so that I could see it well enough, and then one did. It looks to be a molting adult male.

There are always plenty of Song Sparrows here and I recorded the one below singing.

Song Sparrow – Goose Lake Natural Area

Here are a few more Song Sparrow photos of various individuals.

Also present were several Common Yellowthroats, starting with one on the trail.

A look at the trail as it stretches out into the open, and then a view of the marshy area with a verbascum thapsis, or Great Mullein, right by the trail.

There were a few Canada Geese which I did not bother with, and. below, some American Coots, but hardly enough water for much else. I did see a couple Great Egrets come in for a landing later but they were totally obscured by vegetation.

I encountered a tree full of Red-winged Blackbirds. There may have been a Yellow-headed Blackbird in this group too. But between the backlighting and the distance I took it for mostly Red-winged Blackbirds and juveniles at that.

I am always intrigued by the female Red-winged Blackbirds.

The female Red-winged Blackbird below was showing off her captured bug.

Below, the bird on the left is a Gray Catbird and the bird on the right, a male Red-winged Blackbird.

Red-winged Blackbirds in the Compass Plants
A likely juvenile Red-winged Blackbird

After hearing a Willow Flycatcher or two, I managed to photograph this one.

As I stood on the platform, suddenly six Sandhill Cranes flew overhead and into the marsh, where they disappeared into the tall grass.

On the way back to my car I saw this juvenile Northern Flicker.

And followed a Barn Swallow as it swooped around. Bothering with this exercise in futility attests to my desperation.

I did see a sitting Ruby-throated Hummingbird on my way back out. Actually, a friendly young cyclist with binoculars had stopped to talk with me and mentioned she had seen this bird. She also told me I could check out North Branch which was only a few minutes away.

Even though it was getting late in the day and almost 11:00 AM, I decided to go and check out the North Branch Conservation Area. Indeed it was only a few minutes away by car. As it turns out, were one to walk the entire length of the Hebron Trail, you could cross Keystone Road and continue on the gravel-paved trail that runs through North Branch. Although this is a fine plan on a bike, I doubt seriously I will ever do this as I have never even walked the entire 5.5 miles of the Hebron Trail and it is another 1.5 miles at the North Branch connection, making it a round-trip 14 miles. Perfect on a bike, but not on foot. But it’s good to know the two are connected and provide extensive habitat.

The first thing I noticed when I started walking the trail at North Branch was dramatic billowing clouds in the blue sky.

Below are a few scenes of the prairie at North Branch. The middle photo features Cupplant which looks a lot tamer than the towering monsters that have overtaken my backyard.

That late in the day I didn’t know what birds I might see. I definitely wasn’t hearing much at that hour. But there were a couple very busy Eastern Kingbirds.

I did find a Field Sparrow here.

And I was happy to see a male Orchard Oriole, if obscurely.

There was an Eastern Bluebird checking me out.

Below, a Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, some Rattlesnake Master and Wild Bergamot with a bee.

I didn’t make it as far as the bridge going over the Nippersink Creek, which is what the “North Branch” refers to, and I’m sorry that I didn’t go that far but it was getting late and I had that long drive home to look forward to. So I will definitely stop back here again, I hope sooner than later.

A Monarch Butterfly attracted to my lens hood

There were plenty of Dickcissels here too, although I could not see them until I spotted this one atop a utility wire. I think years ago I saw my very first Dickcissel on a similar perch.

The clouds were just beautiful that day and I liked the distant Great Egret using them as a backdrop.

American Goldfinches are going to be easier to see now that there are plenty of plants with fresh seeds to eat.

Two more parting shots of an Eastern Kingbird…

The Compass Plant is one of several well-presented species here. I suspect much has been planted, which is fine. I confess I just read a great article in The Atlantic extolling the beneficial aspects of grasslands that are often overlooked in our conditioned preference for tree cover, and it reminded me of how valuable these areas are. It has the somewhat unfortunate title “Trees Are Overrated” but I suspect that is attention-getting strategy.

All that walking on Tuesday gave me permission to only swim on Wednesday, and today after early rain and gardening was for shopping. I plan to return to the Portage tomorrow morning to see if anything new shows up.

Summer Surprises at the Chicago Portage

I began writing this post while I was sitting here with the sun pouring through the half-closed slats of the blinds, the curse of facing east in the morning, artificially cooled by the fans and air conditioning going more often than I’d like to maintain an inside temperature of 80 degrees. I paid the Chicago Portage a visit Monday and before that on Saturday, when the morning temperatures were much cooler, but decided to stay home yesterday, worked in the yard for brief periods, and gave my recuperating knee a rest. At least I have shade in the backyard. We are in the middle of a hot, dry spell again. The later-week predictions of rain have disappeared.

Oh – that beautiful male Eastern Towhee at the top of the post – I encountered him briefly right off the trail. It’s the second time I’ve seen him in the past couple weeks.

Monday as I was putting my camera and backpack in the hatch of the car, I looked up to see a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird first check the front yard, then zip over to the feeder on the porch and then over the roof toward the backyard where there are three more feeders. I haven’t seen a hummingbird for weeks, maybe months. That proved to be a good sign. When I got to the first bridge at the Portage, although very distant and the photos below are severely cropped, I did see a male Ruby-throat, perched on a dead tree over the water from where I stood.

I hoped to see a hummingbird again, perhaps in the Red Bee Balm that is in bloom, but did not.

Red Bee Balm at the Portage

After the hummingbird left, I spotted one American Goldfinch on the same tree.

Whereas on Saturday, I spotted five distant American Goldfinches trying to brighten up the gloom.

Monday was bright and sunshiny with most birds still at a distance. An American Robin and a Red-bellied Woodpecker share this frame.

The Prairie Coneflower, below left, is starting to bloom. It’s one of my favorites at the Portage. I still haven’t figured out the other yellow flower.

There are a lot of American Robins here even when you don’t see them. Below are two juveniles. The second photograph, taken in the mulberry tree, indicates the berries aren’t quite ready yet. I expect when they are ripe, flocks of Cedar Waxwings will join the Robins.

Here’s a Robin I managed to follow as it decided what to do with its catch.

There are quite a few Blue-fronted Dancer damselflies. I wish this one had chosen a better-looking place to rest.

I was intrigued by the new growth starting from a long-dead fragment of log poking out from the bottomlands through the fence.

Here’s what it looked like after the rain, back there on Sunday. I’m sure it’s all dried out now.

Sunday was not a great day to photograph Indigo Buntings but this one picked an interesting perch.

As a contrast, there was too much light on Monday.

The brightness did justice to two butterflies, a Silver-spotted Skipper and a Red Admiral.

I was surprised to see what had been an iconic dead tree by the second, or northernmost bridge, broken in half as it was a magnet for nesting Northern Flickers. I could not locate what happened to the rest of it.

The most interesting bird on Saturday was a Peregrine Falcon perched at quite a distance from where I stood across the water. When I got a bit closer to it, it fixed its gaze on me. Alas we grew bored with each other and I was looking elsewhere when it finally took off, missing a flight shot.

On Monday one Pearl Crescent became two.

I felt lucky to see an Eastern Wood-Pewee as I usually only hear him, but I didn’t manage to get him in great focus. Oh well.

Tadziu was on territory Monday.

I haven’t been able to find a Red-winged Blackbird anywhere at the Portage although I know they exist. So I had to settle Monday for a female Brown-headed Cowbird as a substitute blackbird.

A bucolic young rabbit with a couple Robins on the path.

Early Monday I encountered a very young deer.

It looks like the Elderberry is going to have ripe fruit soon too. Let the fun begin. I have just planted one of these in my backyard and I expect it won’t produce fruit for a while but I look forward to watching it grow.

A view of Tadziu’s bridge through the trees.

There is simply a lot of Tall Bellflower in bloom here.

One more of the Peregrine Falcon.

I’m not going out walking every day in this heat – more like every other day or so. There’s plenty to do around the house and in the yard. And there is that book. I had a revelation the other day while I was swimming, I think. Water has always inspired me, even doing dishes over the sink. That and sometimes while I’m playing piano for the birds. Anyway I think I fit some puzzle pieces together in my head so I am going to write a synopsis tonight and tomorrow which will give me a roadmap.

More to come. Still trying to fill up these longer days while we have them.

Spring Migration Continues

Even if the temperature doesn’t seem springlike lately, the trees are starting to leaf out, the birds are returning, and there is every other indication that spring is here. And now that the Spring Music Festival is over, I wonder if I will stop having occasional ancient dreams about performing because I have actually done so. It was good to be “back in the saddle again” to quote from our minister Emily’s opening monologue as she was the perfect emcee for the event. She actually played guitar and sang her own version of “Back in the Saddle Again” to reflect the novelty of a return to this tradition after a three-year pandemic-induced delay.

For the moment, we are experiencing a lot of rain, the complete antithesis to last year’s drought. I managed to visit Riverside Lawn yesterday but it’s likely I will not return immediately. In the back of my mind I anticipated flooding would happen eventually. Below is a portion of the trail I encountered.

Beyond that it’s been cloudy and chilly, so lack of light has been an issue especially focusing the camera with my old eyes. And I still manage to take too many photographs. This is a combined post of photos from yesterday and my visit on 4/29.

The most beautiful sight was at least 50 Chimney Swifts circling around the bend in the river. If you click on the photos below you might be able to see some of them – it was impossible to capture them all as they moved about quickly and then dispersed. I thought there were more than 50 but ebird pushed back on “60” and since I couldn’t possible count them individually for as quickly as they moved I settled on an acceptable number.

Green Herons have also returned to the area. I have seen two at the Chicago Portage in the last week but haven’t been able to photograph them well yet. With all this water I am confident I will see them again in sunnier and greener conditions. These photos are from the 29th.

On both days I saw a few Solitary Sandpipers in the fluddle close to the paved path in Riverside.