Leading Myself

I had been envisioning all week what it would be like, yesterday, to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m. and go through my normal routine of waking up my body, preparing and serving breakfast to my indoor flock, filling the feeders and changing water in the bird baths for the outdoor flock, and then getting ready to leave in time to arrive at Columbus Park and lead a walk that was to start at 7:00 a.m. I don’t organize the walks. I have been asked to “lead” this and other Saturday walks that alternatively go to Thatcher Woods in River Forest through the first Saturday in November. Leading basically means showing up, in case the organizer can’t make it. That will be the end of the “fall migration walks” and the same schedule will restart in April for spring migration.

I made several discoveries yesterday. Perhaps most important was the conclusion that I managed to arrive on time after the organizer had already advised me he couldn’t make it, I had a few moments to spare, which means I might be able to sleep maybe 20 more minutes before Saturday morning’s visit to Thatcher Woods.

So I arrived on time. And started talking to one of the golfers who use the same parking lot for access to the adjacent golf course. And I waited. I watched for cars with people getting out of them bearing binoculars. But all the cars arriving produced golf clubs. I soon came to the conclusion that I was the only person showing up for the walk. Below is a picture of what the sky looked like at that time. Maybe with the combination of clouds and no organizer, I was not enough of a draw.

Those little black dots in the clouds are Chimney Swifts.

I figured I may as well check out the park for birds anyway, all dressed up with my gear as I was, so I started walking across the lawn to the water where there were only a few Mallards. It was still quite cloudy and beyond my desire to compensate for the lack of light.

I confess I was a little leery of walking through the park so early alone. Although it has always been a safe place with others, I was not familiar enough with the spot to feel entirely confident. But then it started to lighten up, and I was hearing birds, and I figured well, I could see what was there. And I’m glad I did, because instead of following a group around – some “leader” I am – I now feel like I actually could lead a walk through Columbus Park.

Below is a video I took with my phone of Chimney Swifts flying over – it starts out mainly hearing them but then when I realized I could zoom in a bit you can actually see them. There’s also a Red-winged Blackbird singing in the beginning, for good measure.

Chimney Swifts

It began to brighten up a little, which helped the photo taking situation. It was difficult capturing the Blackpoll Warbler below in the shady portion of the park, however, but I kept trying.

I agonized over the pictures below as I was sure it was a Bay-breasted Warbler but for some reason ebird insisted it was a rare sighting for this date. I submitted my photographs and so far they have not challenged me.

I wasn’t seeing a lot of birds in the water, so I looked forward to going to the native plant garden next to a portion of it where I would likely see more birds, and I did.

Palm Warblers like the one below were expected.

I haven’t seen a lot of Tennessee Warblers this year – so it was nice to find this one.

And below, a very young-looking American Goldfinch.

On the way out I managed to capture a sneaky picture of a Wood Duck drake through some tangled branches. Also saw the resident Great Blue Heron in a well-camouflaged spot.

One more of the Tennessee Warbler

At 8:30 a.m. I felt as if I had covered the area – even though I missed a raptor I barely saw flying over. I encountered a birder who was waiting on someone to start her walk through, and we exchanged notes. Columbus Park is her go-to spot, like the Portage is mine. She may join us at Thatcher next week. I am no longer dreading these early Saturday morning rises.

I was tired, especially after having gone swimming the night before, so I took a long nap when I got home. But I am glad I managed the early start and stayed for the birds. I’m sure I would have seen more birds if I had company, but I encountered some nice, smiling runners and walkers and felt more connected to Columbus Park, which is really a beautiful place.

Leading Walks

I led two walks for the Unity Temple Unitarian Universality Congregation (UTUUC) auction again, on September 11 and September 25 this year. I didn’t take a lot of pictures, even though I was in much better shape than I was last time with the broken elbow. The pictures from the 11th are first and the ones from the 25th start with the Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

More than anything, it was good to get out with people from the congregation, most of whom I had not previously connected with, which was the whole point, beyond raising money, of offering a walk as an auction item. We had great conversations and the weather was good on both days, so I find myself looking forward to doing this again. And again.

Not quite the last Indigo Bunting (a juvenile).

I managed to capture this Chestnut-sided Warbler with a bug.

The Yellow Warbler below was deemed “rare” in that it was late to be seen on September 11, so perhaps I developed too many photos of it to prove I had seen it.

A Red-tailed Hawk flew over.

It was nice to see yet another Eastern Wood-Pewee.

I am always grateful to the bees that remind me the Canada Goldenrod, however strident in taking over spaces, is needed and appreciated by them.

A closeup of some galls that attach themselves to hackberry leaves.

Not a representative photograph at all, but below was my first of many Yellow-Rumped Warblers to come.

Below is a somewhat hard-to-see Blackpoll Warbler. You can always click on the image to see it better.

For a few days there was a juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak or two.

Finally started seeing some Ruby-crowned Kinglets on September 25th like the one below. I have since captured more – to follow eventually.

Magnolia Warblers just kept popping up all month.

One more of the delicately decorated Swamp Darner also at the top of the post. It was on its way somewhere on September 25th,

I led a walk this morning at Columbus Park – I was the only participant. I think I might return shortly with that adventure before I continue to plow through the accumulated backlog: for instance, I wound up going back to the Portage before and after the second walk and found it to be very birdy, so be forewarned.

Catching Up

Here it is the end of September and I am just getting around to photos from the 10th taken at – where else? – the Chicago Portage. The activity seemed to die down a bit that day so there aren’t quite so many to sift through. Magnolia Warbler above and directly below.

I’m not 100% sure but I think the bird directly below is a Pine Warbler. One of those confusing fall warblers…

This was the first time I had seen a Northern Parula in a while. A not-so-common warbler around here.

A few other birds seen that weren’t warblers…

Red-eyed Vireo
For the record, a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird…
Swainson’s Thrush

Blackpoll Warblers have been everywhere, or so it seems. Below is another.

Never confusing, a Black-and-White Warbler below. I suppose if you couldn’t see them well you might mistake one for a nuthatch as they behave the same way.

This Nashville Warbler could have been in better light…

The other ubiquitous warbler that is easy to confuse with the Blackpoll is the Bay-breasted Warbler, below.

Chipmunks are everywhere too – it seems like a bumper crop this year.

One more of the Northern Parula.

I’m afraid I will be back shortly with another surfeit of something. This birding every morning to make up for not being able to do it while I was working is…almost like going to work. But I am enjoying myself and it seems imperative to pay attention and keep track of the birds while I still can. Learning how to navigate retirement with…a sense of purpose.

Bemis Woods Twice

I decided to visit Bemis Woods a couple times two weeks ago as it is on the way to the grocery store where buy my organic veggies and then I wouldn’t be wasting a trip running all the way over to the store just for a couple items the first time, and my weekly groceries the next. I have now changed my shopping day to Friday instead of Saturday, so… visiting Bemis could become a weekly event.

I wasn’t sure if I would ever visit Bemis after the installation of a “Go Ape” Zipline feature a couple years ago. It’s right off the parking lot. but I thought I would see how it was to walk the trails, figuring the pandemic had probably put a damper on Go Ape for a while. While it doesn’t take up the whole preserve, that much human activity, in addition to plenty of bike riders, walkers and runners…well, you get the picture for a slow-moving quiet person like me. Bemis is also huge and there are trails sprawled out leading to oblivion, or so it seems, but luckily the GPS on my phone confirms I am going back in the right direction.

Black-throated Green Warblers have been everywhere this season. Period.

I was delighted to find the female Black-throated Blue Warbler below in my photos.

I could not resist documenting this Blackpoll Warbler’s struggle with its prey.

Not to be outdone by the warblers chasing bugs, this Black-capped Chickadee showed me there are other interesting things to eat.

I have no idea what the plant below is but I liked the way it has gone to seed.

Another view of part of Bemis that is not woods.

Bemis is otherwise thick with tall trees like the view below, which makes seeing anything a challenge.

The Salt Creek runs through the preserve and there were Mallards at least one morning. It was nice to see some water still deep enough to afford waterfowl.

The asters below caught my eye. There are so many different types of asters, the more I learn the more confused I become. I’m glad the bee in the right-hand photo has figured it out.

Two more views of the Northern Flicker at the top of the post.

Below is a confusing fall warbler that has to be a Bay-Breasted but looks almost nothing like the ones below it in different light.

I have not seen many Chestnut-Sided Warblers this fall but am always glad when I do see one.

Below, some type of phlox and then golf-ball-sized galls that are found on Staghorn Sumac trees.

There’s always room for a Downy Woodpecker in my estimation.

This is still just the tip of the iceberg. However I have to use up more photographs soon or I won’t have room on my hard drive for the ones I have yet to take. Or something like that. I did get a bit of a reprieve last week when we had a string of rainy, cloudy mornings – which I devoted to projects I’m starting in my yard. We had cool weather and then we went back to hot and dry – and now we seem to be somewhere in between, but I am really hoping for some more rain, again.

More Portage Warblers and Friends

I’m taking advantage of the rainy forecast – we’re not getting much rain yet but it is quite cloudy and we could get more. I needed a morning off from birding anyway as my left foot was complaining about something of unknown origin yesterday. It’s better this morning, but I’ll defer the walking part of my day and swim a mile in the pool later this evening.

These photographs are from my second visit to the Portage now almost two weeks ago – on September 8th. The clear skies gave way to intense light which made for some interesting contrasts when I found a cooperative Black-throated Green Warbler.

I found it hard to resist taking one photo of my favorite shelf fungus which is conveniently located close to the trail.

Two-year male American Redstarts have been few and far between and avoiding me, but I sort of managed a furtive representation of this one. The first-year males have been plentiful, but I think that’s a female below as the flank color isn’t quite orangey enough.

Female American Redstart

I have seen a good number of Blackpoll Warblers this fall, like the one below.

Here’s one of my favorite combinations – Canada Goldenrod and Boneset seem to have an affinity for each other. A closeup of the Boneset is below.

Here’s a European Starling in the Pokeweed berries.

I had a nice look at a light morph Red-tailed Hawk.

Certain birds tend to stand out and the number of Eastern Wood-Pewees I have seen well fall into this category.

Swainson’s Thrushes have been everywhere. Period. But sometimes they look like Gray-Cheeked Thrushes and vice versa…

This looks like a Gray-Cheeked Thrush to me.

Here’s what the Des Plaines River looked like two weeks ago – it’s even lower now.

Red-eyed Vireos were abundant.

Maybe – just maybe – the bird below was a Wilson’s Warbler. Sadly, I have no other views of it. I am still trying to codify warbler colors. This looks like Wilson’s Warbler Yellow to me.

The Portage colors match the birds.

There was a Canada Warbler that day.

And American Robins are so ubiquitous that when one stands out, I sometimes have to capture it. The bird below looks to be very young and quite curious.

It’s been a rewarding fall migration season so far for me, albeit tucked away in my location limits. Eventually I will have to go down to the lakefront and other places a little more far-flung but for the moment I feel like I am enjoying my morning outings around here.

One more – Magnolia Warbler

Two Visits to an Old New Place

Thanks to a dog walker I met twice last week… I visited a new-for-me place which has been in my backyard, so to speak, all along. I had been meaning to check out the Riverwalk on the Lyons side of the Des Plaines but never realized the other side had a park along the river called Indian Gardens. Many thanks to Ken the architect from Riverside who told me about it. It’s actually closer to home than the Portage, even, by about a couple minutes.

These pictures are from two days’ visits. I parked on the Lyons side and then walked across the bridge and through the Indian Gardens park. I didn’t venture past the tennis courts the first day, but on the second day I walked through them and found where there is an “unmanaged” trail along the river where I will be going more often.

The Lyons side has a fantastic Hoffman Tower which provides a place to hang out for a sizable number of feral pigeons. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a flock of pigeons in flight for quite some time.