More September Songs

I spent all day Saturday at a women’s retreat – my very first retreat ever with any organization (I don’t count a job-related paralegal “retreat” years ago) and after two years of virtual isolation save day-to-day brief interactions here and there, I am still basking in the love and inclusion of the community experience. We were all masked and sufficiently socially distanced most of the time. Normally this retreat would occur over a weekend, so this was the first (and I hope last) pandemic-influenced gathering. Actually the fact that it was contained in one day made it easier for me to attend because the thought of finding someone to take care of the birds these days doesn’t even enter my mind.

I spent yesterday still processing the insights and new relationships. In a way, I was still on the retreat. I fully intended to go for a walk this morning, but if the ground is anything like my backyard, there is likely ice everywhere, possible snow flurries are in the forecast this morning, and the windchill is in the single digits. I am still wearing my long underwear. Maybe I’ll go out and see if I can sneak a photo or two of the yard birds. But I think I will wait until tomorrow to go walking anywhere. We have a promised warmup which, by Wednesday, looks to be a big, soggy meltdown.

This is a brief photographic return to September 13th at the Portage. The only warbler I managed to photograph well was the American Redstart at the top of the post, but there were many more later. Perhaps the most spectacular sighting that day was the Red-headed Woodpecker below, albeit too far away to get a decent photograph. This is still a very infrequent visitor to the Portage but the habitat keeps changing, so we shall see.

Also spectacular that day was to see a beautiful Mourning Cloak caterpillar.

Young American Robins, in various plumages.

We must have gotten some rain, everything looked a little greener than the more parched summer images.

I do remember seeing one or two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds like this female that would sit and rest by the trail.

Downy Woodpeckers – all year long.

Had to check my ebird list to make sure I reported both… I believe the top photo is a Swainson’s Thrush, and the one below it, a Gray-cheeked Thrush.

I think this is Silphium pinnatifidum, which has a lot of different common names: Cutleaf Rosinweed, Cutleaf Prairie Dock, Tansy Rosinweed, Southern Dock … the wildflower challenge will resume this summer.

Perhaps the most gratifying part of the retreat was having the opportunity to share my love of birds and music and how profoundly the birds have changed my life for the better. I retrieved this published article from long ago and read it to the participants during the “sharing show” at the end of the retreat. I have added this as a page to the menu where it is a bit easier to read if you are so inclined. I was just becoming aware of birds and my observations are definitely of the novice variety, but I was delighted to rediscover the beginnings of all this, so to speak. Even more wonderful was to receive spontaneous praise for my writing. In retrospect I realize I have needed that encouragement, if I am going to go back to writing the elusive book I keep starting in my head. This experience will carry me forward to my start deadline which is now July 5.

Spring will soon be intoxicating and toss all these reflections asunder. But I still have some photos left over from September and of course there’s the here-and-there of more recent outings. I think my goal will be to get caught up enough so I can be more current by spring. It’s always good to have goals. I think.

End of September: Grackles! Osprey…

After a summer of hardly seeing any Common Grackles, on September 29th of last year I probably saw at least 100. The other Bird of the Day was Osprey. I am looking forward to seeing Osprey on the Des Plaines River this year, along with all the other regular big birds – Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants…

Dry conditions last summer and fall

A frequent visitor to the Des Plaines River was an Osprey or two. I tried to capture the juvenile bird below going after something.

The Common Grackles were perched in the trees along the river, but later on my way back through Indian Gardens they were all over the lawn with Red-winged Blackbirds. It’s likely they were gathering for migration southward. I never really get over those shiny blue heads.

Here’s an adult Osprey I managed to capture flying over the river.

I will always see Rock Pigeons at this location, which attests to its urbanity.

I think this is a juvenile Song Sparrow trying very hard to look like a female House Sparrow…

There was still one Double-crested Cormorant around on that day.

A Mallard hen in the bright sunshine…

I look forward to the Great Blue Herons that will adorn the river this coming spring and summer. I suspect the Great Egrets had just left by this date, but I expect there will likely be quite a number of them too this summer.

Never to be turned down, no matter how bad the light – a cooperative Blue Jay.

I frequently heard Killdeer and sometimes saw them, got lucky with this one flying overhead.

Also never ignored by me, an American Crow flying. There is nothing like a Crow. Period.

Thanks for stopping by and helping me clean up some space on my hard drive. Larger posts are likely ahead with spring migration just around the…corner. As I start to post more often the hard drive glut will be less of an issue, or so I tell myself.

As the weather improves and I go out more, there will be fewer of these retrospective posts. In the meantime it’s nice to dream of the excitement seeing these birds again.

This Morning at the Chicago Portage

I have to start getting up earlier! The days are getting longer and I have been giving in to a winter tendency to sleep in… but I think I better get back in shape. In any event, my birds always tell me when it’s sunrise, and on a sunny day they tell me just a little bit before. This morning was gorgeous, awash in sunshine, so after I fed everyone I headed for the Chicago Portage.

Suffice it to say we have had more snow since last week and it was a workout to walk the trails this morning. They have been navigated but the snow is still quite deep. Slow as it goes.

I hardly heard and didn’t see any birds at all until I got to the first rise where I found a couple American Tree Sparrows and several Black-capped Chickadees. The Chickadees evaded my lens but I managed to somehow focus on one Tree Sparrow.

American Tree Sparrow

So it was more snowy scenes, and some interesting sky views.

I took a look around the MWRD to see if there were any birds at all, dreaming of a misguided Snowy Owl, but not seeing anything.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD)

And the view of the Des Plaines River through the bottomlands was equally stagnant.

Beyond the obvious deer tracks, there were some interesting tracks in the snow.

I think these are squirrel tracks – they seem too closely spaced for a rabbit…?

On my way to the second bridge and out..

All was not lost. I saw a distant adult Bald Eagle through the trees but did not have time for a photograph. Still, I was glad to see one.

Here’s a tree that had American Robins in it on January 31 but none today.

I think this Red-bellied Woodpecker has become familiar with me. His territory seems to be closer to the part of the trail where I have been ending my winter walks. Anyway he saw me stop when I heard him chirping around his trees and volunteered several nice looks.

I also managed to get a few somewhat-more-distant shots of a male Downy Woodpecker before I left. Lately it seems to be getting harder to focus at a distance so I’m happy with these.

Those warmer greener photos from late September are still in the works but I felt like honoring today’s walk before the snow melts. Here’s one more of the Red-bellied.

Riverside Winter Comparison

Here’s a set of photographs I have been meaning to share since they were taken way back when, December 22, 2021, to be exact, in Riverside. I figured I could contrast what this part of the world looked like before the snow and icy cold overtook everything.

The Brown Creeper at the top of the post was on a Hackberry tree right by the Riverside entrance to the foot bridge. It was foraging about waist-level.

December 22, 2021
February 1, 2022
The Water Tower
Foot bridge

There were a lot of Canada Geese that day, including the one above with its neck tag. When I was last there, only a few Canada Geese were down on the ice.

I never turn down a chance to photograph a Downy Woodpecker, although it was a lot easier back in December.

The Dark-eyed Junco below was over by the Riverside side of the Joliet Avenue bridge.

It’s been really hard to capture Black-capped Chickadees lately, so I’m glad I managed on December 22nd to photograph this one.

Mallards below are from February 1. The sole female Common Goldeneye was still with some of them.

The unidentified fungus below was from the December outing.

Also in December, across the river, I managed to pick out this Blue Jay having a drink of water solely by his blue color.

Here’s how the sky looked on February 1.

Another before and after comparison of the river.

I took notice of the hole in this stump on February 1, sheerly for its size and somewhat square shape, which made me wonder if I will ever see a Pileated Woodpecker at this location. I thought I heard one that day.

I keep thinking this downed tree by the trail looks like a hedge.

So, a last look at the snow and ice for now. It is not going anywhere for awhile. There likely will always be some Mallards and a few Canada Geese in the open water. I have yet to see a Bald Eagle here or at the Portage.

This morning I found myself going through some photographs from the end of September in Riverside, taken around the Indian Gardens location before I had discovered this location I have been to all winter. I am sure I will be birding both areas in the spring. In the meantime, I will be back with those photos from September 29, 2021, to brighten things up a bit and as something to look forward to.

Common Redpolls and Friends

I hadn’t been to LaBagh Woods for years, but I started thinking about it when it seemed I might have a good chance to see some Common Redpolls. They’ve been seen farther north and nearer to the lake than my territory. I used to see them on occasion downtown by the lake, but I didn’t see any the one day I went down for crows. So Saturday I just decided to get in the car and go, one day after our last snowfall.

It’s strange enough trying to remember the layout of a place you haven’t been to for a while, let alone covered in snow. But there were tracks in the snow to follow from the main parking lot.

There wasn’t a lot of light, but I guess the snow made up for that somewhat.

Early on I took photographs of a singular Redpoll and now, after developing them, it almost resembles a Hoary Redpoll. If that was the case, it would make it rather special as they are rarer. But I think it’s just a lighter-colored individual Common Redpoll. it’s really hard to tell.

There was a sign by the river. This is the north branch of the Chicago River. It dawned on me how remarkable it is to have a forest preserve in the middle of a city.

It was at that point that I encountered a fellow birdwatcher who had been there perhaps the day before but had come back to look for lost keys. He wasn’t wearing binoculars but of course I was and we sort of recognized each other as birders. He led me to the path that goes down along the river and pointed me in the direction of where he had seen the Redpolls earlier. As I started to walk, the layout became more familiar and I did encounter a small flock of Common Redpolls, Dark-eyed Juncos and an occasional American Goldfinch.

Two Common Redpolls, one American Goldfinch and one Dark-eyed Junco

It was otherwise pretty quiet until I got down to the northern end where there are some houses that demarcate where the city starts again. Some of the houses have bird feeders. I was simply across the river from their backyards above, and there were several Common Redpolls high up in the trees. I was surprised I managed to hold my heavy lens that high and get photographs. It was simply delightful to hear their calls and watch them.

More Common Redpolls…

At least I managed a closer photograph of a Dark-eyed Junco.

One thing about LaBagh – I had never taken the highway to get there before, which may seem strange because it is right off the Edens Expressway. I have always gone the stop-and-go route through the city, but Saturday morning in January seemed like a safe bet to follow the GPS and take the expressways. Up until Saturday, I have long avoided going through the downtown area which is always congested and has become somewhat confusing due to construction, so I was shocked by the terrible condition of the road surfaces. I can’t imagine driving that every day. But at least traffic was moving and it only took me half an hour to get there and back.

More snowy scenes. The river was frozen and covered with snow except for a little open water under the bridge.

Here are a few more Common Redpoll shots.

I found a few Mourning Doves.

Beyond that I managed to get a brief photo of a Downy Woodpecker in flight after barely focusing on it exploring a tree stump. And one nice Hairy Woodpecker.

Hairy Woodpecker

I was glad to renew my acquaintance with LaBagh Woods, which is named, incidentally, after Ella LaBagh who was a force for establishing the Forest Preserves of Cook County. LaBagh is a great place to see birds during migration and I will be coming back here more often in the spring.

As for snow, the current forecast is for a winter storm warning – Tuesday night through Thursday night. I managed to find some tube sand at the local hardware store this morning and scattered some on what were some icy spots on my walks. I had used up what sand I had from last year and decided I had better get more in anticipation of more snow and ice. The tube sand was 60 pounds – I thought my limit was 50 pounds – but I managed to get it onto my dolly and around to the back porch area. I prefer sand to deicer, I don’t care how environmentally friendly the chemicals are. I have also discovered the House Sparrows consider my front steps a destination for grit for their little gizzards, which is an added bonus to using the sand.

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.