The First Thaw

I was almost going to revert back to sunnier and greener times – and I probably will in the next post – but it occurred to me that in the middle of summer, no matter how unbearably hot it gets, I won’t be going back to any cold, grey, icy scenes as something to look forward to, so I may as well organize a more recent outing here.

I went out yesterday morning to Riverside, where I hadn’t been since the end of December. The forecast was cloudy but warmer – and anything warmer than the 5 to 10-below wind chills sounded possible to me. Still I decided to carry the little mirrorless camera so my agility negotiating icy spots would not be compromised. I was sure there would be plenty of ice but at least there are no hills to navigate on the Riverside trail, unlike the Portage. Below is what the river looked like going over the Joliet Avenue bridge.

There was open water here, which was not always the case farther down the river. As I walked across the bridge I thought of the Yellow-rumped Warbler I saw close to the bridge back on December 22nd.

I started down the paved path, and I began to see some ducks in the water – but I was hearing an insistent little ticking call behind me. I turned around, and the Yellow-rumped Warbler was up in a tree telling me it was still here. I am glad I managed to get a photograph of it.

I don’t know exactly what it is, it’s probably a combination of things, but I think a point of mutual exchange occurs with birds sometimes that is plainly a result of my paying attention. This was not a “coincidence” but rather, the Yellow-rumped Warbler was responding to my thought about it. I remember a dear former boyfriend who was an electrical engineer, who used to say “thoughts are things.” Indeed they are.

I am also reminded of some lyrics from one of my favorite Peter Mayer songs, “World of Dreams”:

“In the smallest measure of anything at hand
Entities of energy are alive in a whirling dance
Even our own bodies are not as we perceive
But made of the same stuff our thoughts are made
In this world of dreams
So do we live and move amidst illusions?
Has what we’re seeing fooled us
And only exists in our minds?
And what are we to do with such conclusions?
For what cannot come true in a world of a
Mystical kind?”

Anyway, this encounter with the Yellow-rumped Warbler was special. It was encouraging to know it had survived the awful cold. I was beginning to wonder how much more cold I could take. Yesterday was the first day I managed without long underwear.

There were perhaps 50 Mallards total – where two weeks before there had been a couple hundred Canada Geese. There were no geese in the water yesterday. But there were diving ducks, which I had never seen at this point in the river before. Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneye.

It was gloomy all morning. The sun kept trying to get through the clouds but it didn’t happen.

Here’s how the river looked closer to the foot bridge.

And the foot bridge itself.

The closer I got to the ice, the more serious it looked.

But at least the foot bridge had a railing, and I was able to grasp the suspender cable at the end to go downhill toward the foot trail, which was a lot safer.

Not knowing what kind of pictures I could get of birds with that camera under these conditions, I just tried when I could, and got lucky with the one cardinal at the top of the post – they have been difficult subjects lately – and a few mixed results otherwise. There weren’t a lot of birds out. And yet I managed to report 16 species.

A Downy Woodpecker and a Dark-eyed Junco

And yes, another Brown Creeper. I’m just amazed the little camera did such a good job.

Not much else from yesterday – just snowy ice and predictable gloom. The temperatures rose quite a bit by the afternoon. Today was supposed to be cloudy and I started cursing the sun when it came out because I only had plans to go grocery shopping. But I decided to make more oatmeal cookies before I went out. I’ve been hooked on these lately – I’ve been making them with yogurt instead of milk and they’re not too sweet, just full of oats and raisins.

The last cookie – and the new batch for future consumptions…

May as well go out with the same color as the beginning. I will be back shortly with greens.

A Portage New Year’s Eve

My visit to the Chicago Portage this morning was full of Goldfinches and… volunteers. Normally the volunteers come on the last Saturday of every month but this time they came on the last day of the year!

I had been wanting to clarify the reason for the chopped up trees anyway so I asked one friendly gentleman volunteer as I met him on the path. He confirmed that the wind had toppled the trees and so they were cut up into pieces for safety reasons. He said one tree in particular was perfectly healthy but was taken down by the wind anyway, so strong were the gusts. But then he asked me if I had taken any pictures of the owls. What owls? He said one of the guys had mentioned seeing owls and a nest. I spent nearly the rest of my walk perusing all the likely trees for owls and finding nothing. How could I miss owls? Since he was not the one to have seen them I didn’t press him for details. I suspect it might have gained something in the retelling. But now I will be looking for owls more seriously every time I go!

While the volunteers were busy clearing and burning the remnants of invasive plants, the American Goldfinches were busy with what remains here and there of another invasive, burdock. So I have way too many photographs of Goldfinches but they were almost the only birds I saw this morning.

There were five American Robins talking about me in a tree, drawing my attention to them.

Also there were a number of Canada Geese and a few Mallards in the water which will soon be frozen again. I was surprised to notice that the duckweed is already growing back.

It was another cloudy day, and if predictions hold everything will turn white tomorrow.

Walking by the hole in the fence that opens to a trail leading to the Des Plaines River, I saw something very white in the water and a quick view of a female Common Goldeneye, so I walked quickly over to the railroad bridge to see if I could capture the pair of Goldeneyes. They had already made quite a bit of distance in the other direction. I have seen Goldeneye in the river here before, but have not seen diving ducks in Riverside so I wonder if the river is shallower upstream.

Common Goldeneye

Just as I turned to go back from the railroad bridge, this track maintenance vehicle was coming my way.

The trees in the flood plain by the river

The Portage got a lot of extra attention from my lens today as the birds were basically absent. I didn’t even see one cardinal.

While searching for an owl, I found a Gray Squirrel close to its nest.

I close with one more Goldfinch…

Happy New Year to all, and thanks for stopping by as I try to make sense out of my wanderings. I suspect we are all collectively undergoing some level of dislocation lately. It would be hard not to… So maybe it’s that much more important to do the things that make us feel grounded. For me, it will always be birds and music and being outside. I hope you have access to what makes you feel alive and there is always more to look forward to. Love and Peace for 2022.

Christmas Week at the Portage, Part II

I will be short on narration with this post – the day after Christmas at the Portage was somewhat more of the same as two days before. There were a couple species of birds I did not see on the previous visit. The Fox Sparrow below, for instance, unfortunately did not give me a better view but it had been weeks since I’d seen one so it was nice to see anyway.

And then months perhaps since I saw my last Kinglet – there was a Golden-crowned Kinglet, not captured very well at all, below.

This was the first time I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the bottom of a tree.

Somewhat obscured but not bothered by my attention to it, a White-throated Sparrow.

More Red-bellied Woodpecker shots through the trees…

I haven’t run into large flocks of House Finches lately but there were a few around.

Always nice to see a Brown Creeper.

American Goldfinches seem to be matching the golden-hued Portage lately.

Some common birds trying to escape attention…

European Starlings in a gnarly oak
An American Robin behind bars

This female Northern Cardinal blends right in.

Often moving quickly in flocks, Dark-eyed Juncos aren’t as easy to capture as they ought to be.

It’s still nice to see Northern Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees. I see them more often than not.

I will be back with a little New Year’s Eve visit this morning that was short on birds but good to do anyway seeing as how we are under a winter storm watch that starts early tomorrow morning. Predictions are for a lot of snow, and I have no intention of driving anywhere in it. Maybe I can capture some of the birds in the yard in between snow shoveling shifts.

Best wishes and hopes to all for 2022. I will be celebrating by taking down all my 2021 calendars…

Christmas Week at the Portage – Part I

This series of photos is from December 23. I went back on the 26th and will share those photos in a separate post. The weather has since turned a bit more wintry. I decided not to go out today due to early cloud cover and mostly mud – I am getting a bit tired of cleaning the treads of my boots. But I also have so much to do at home that I kept putting off “until I retire” or “until winter” and since I am in both those places, I need to get going on the 20-years-of-accumulated-stuff project.

The sky was dramatic at first but brightened up ever so slightly. There are new piles of chopped wood here and there along the trails. I can only imagine the volunteers were taking care of fallen or about-to-fall trees.

At first this White-breasted Nuthatch was hard to uncover but he came out and made himself known eventually.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been more abundant than I remember, but it could just be that for the sake of getting out more, I have become more attuned to their comings and goings. I was delighted to find the flight sequence in my photos, which I put into the carousel below.

A favorite ground-foraging place these days is the trail, and when I’m lucky and the only person on the trail, I can usually stop and watch the birds for some time.

Song Sparrow and female Northern Cardinal
Another Song Sparrow

I was beginning to think my ears were lying to me because I thought I always heard White-throated Sparrows but I was never seeing them. Then this one posed for a picture.

White-throated Sparrow

Dark-eyed Juncos are also fond of the gravelly trails.

I could barely focus on this somewhat far-away American Goldfinch, but I so love their muted tones this time of year.

It wouldn’t be Christmas week without a male Northern Cardinal.

I’ll be back shortly with the next installment. The days are getting longer…already!

Going Back a Bit – Now and Then

Suffice it to say we are presently in the middle of a cloud. I took the little camera out this morning trying to capture it. The rain overnight and the cloud cover made the prospect of going for a walk in the woods less attractive than usual.

In the backyard, the cloud continued…

This is a perfectly senseless segue to some photos from July 31st taken at the Portage on the cusp of what would soon be the beginning of fall migration. The photos have been languishing on my hard drive and in the name of creating space I have archived them to storage. I found I had one photograph of a Big Bluestem that day in my backyard (below).

Big Bluestem

It appears to have been a suitably sunny morning at the Portage.

It was getting more difficult to find an Indigo Bunting still singing (above) and what was my last attempt to capture a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the Monarda below.

A Chimney Swift…

Summertime flora…

Queen Anne’s Lace
Squirrel Tail-Grass
Tall Bellflower, also at the top of the post

An elusive Gray Catbird in a mulberry tree…

As I recall there wasn’t enough water to support a lot of turtles last summer but here is one.

An Osprey flew over…

A young American Robin perched on the statue, getting its bearings…

Belted Kingfishers are not often easy to capture but I managed this one, a male.

Ah, dragonflies… a female 12-Spotted Skimmer.

The Portage pond, as it were, on the left, and the low level of the Des Plaines River on the right.

Two Cabbage White Butterflies…

A Monarch Butterfly in the Red Milkweed below.

And a Pearl Crescent Butterfly…

I have been out to the Portage a couple times in the last week and will be back with some of that, but I thought it might be nice to briefly remember what the sunlight looked like in the middle of summer before we finally plunge into some winter weather. Rain may turn to snow with some accumulation tomorrow.

A Look Back at More Riverside Wildlife

On November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, I got photographs of a buck on the Riverside Lawn side of the Des Plaines River. He was close to the path. This might have been the last time I saw any deer, they seem to have gone elsewhere since.