Slowly Emerging from Winter’s Grip

We are still cold. The forecast hovers between rain with a little snow mixed in and sunny respites here and there – the last sunny morning was Friday, and we will have one more day of sunshine tomorrow. I will be indoors singing in the choir, but it will be good to have the sunshine streaming through the clerestory windows of Unity Temple: the forecast is for rain and snow every day in the week ahead.

I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. Last year we had a drought. We seem to be making up for it this year. In any event, contrary to my musings in my last post, the American Tree Sparrows have not yet left the Portage, and there are still a few Dark-eyed Juncos around too. There wasn’t much happening with perching birds yesterday so I took note of a few other things.

A dusting of snow from the night before
Blue sky
A little bit of green
Flooded bottomlands by the Des Plaines

I was encouraged to see and hear an Eastern Phoebe, albeit at quite a distance.

There are Americans Robins everywhere, but they were generally too busy for photographs. I often find one walking ahead of me, sometimes looking back waiting for me to make the next move.

The Brown-headed Cowbirds are back, and beginning their courtship rituals. Below, some photos of the standard configuration – two males and one female with her back to both of them.

There were Red-winged Blackbirds everywhere but they were often too busy to capture. It is nice to see the females getting ready to settle in.

Since there were still numerous American Tree Sparrows, I took a lot of photos. Just to make sure I won’t forget what they look like.

Song Sparrows were not as easy to capture but they will be around all summer, when I will try as ever to get a picture of one singing.

Then there’s the stuff that seems to be greening before everything else and drawing my attention to the thorns amongst the leaves. It looks like some sort of wild gooseberry but I haven’t nailed it down yet. Update: my faithful follower Ann has identified this as Ribes hirtellum, Wild Gooseberry. Thank you, Ann!

Now I’m going back to March 15, which by contrast was a cloudy day, but offered some nice photo opportunities.

Sometimes I just get lucky with these White-breasted Nuthatch guys. This time became a nuthatch overload.

Also memorable that day was seeing a male Wood Duck in the water.

And then, flying away…

A male Red-winged Blackbird offered a series of images.

I also captured a female in flight.

A pair of Song Sparrows perched for me.

And I had an elusive Black-capped Chickadee. They have been keeping a low profile lately but I expect to see them a lot as soon as the bugs and warblers arrive.

I can’t resist being stared down by a Dark-eyed Junco.

American Tree Sparrows were fewer in number than they have been in the last week.

One more American Robin on the ground.

With the forecast for rain and snow this week, I don’t know how often I will get out. Of course things can change. I just don’t want to repeat an exercise I went through one day last week when I went out the front door and came back in three times before I finally decided to take my chances. So I will likely be back with some older photos before I banish them to storage. I hope your days are getting greener.

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.

Deep Freeze

I wasn’t going out today. At least not for a walk. I got out of bed later than usual. The birds were waiting to be fed as the bright sunshine poured through the east windows. By the time I got done feeding everyone I had convinced myself the sun was shining and there was no reason not to go for a walk, so I put on extra layers and drove over to the Portage where I was the only car in the lot.

Plenty of people had been there yesterday after the snow. Yesterday wasn’t such a bad day by comparison but I was preoccupied with the snow and stayed home. This morning we were in the single digits. But the sun was shining and there was no wind to speak of. So I walked – and I’m glad I did. My mind and body seem to need this.

Below, footprints in the snow that preceded my visit. But still better than the ice from my last visit four days earlier.

There were not a lot of birds on either day, but I was delighted to see an albeit rather distant American Kestrel land on top of a tree this morning just as I approached the first bridge. I took several photographs like the one below and then managed to capture its departure.

The first bridge

I always take photos of the landscape just to see how it changes with the seasons… There seemed to be a lot of deer tracks across the frozen stream. And then there was a family of deer.

I was fortunate enough to visit with a greeter Black-capped Chickadee for a moment.

On the earlier visit with the little camera I managed to get the images below of Northern Cardinals and an American Tree Sparrow. I saw none of these species today.

Front and back of the statue – today with snow, on the 21st without.

American Robins from my first visit and today. You can see how much colder it was today by how fluffed up the Robin below is.

I also managed to get a few photos of White-throated Sparrows both visits. The closest ones were with the little camera – better weather and a less-intimidating lens, perhaps.

I noticed the wasp nest had a nice snow cap.

There was a Red-tailed Hawk on my way out, but it refused to stay put in its perch locations long enough to photograph and I didn’t capture it well enough in flight to reproduce here.

When I got home, I decided to walk around the back with the camera to see if I could sneak a few shots of my yard birds. They know me best for when they can expect me to fill the feeders. The rest of the time they tend not to tolerate my presence outside much. They are so exposed right now. It will be easier to hang with them when the trees start filling out with leaves.

The American Goldfinches are my steadiest customers up until about 3;00 in the afternoon. I fill up the new thistle feeders every day so more of them can feed at the same time. Every morning there are at least 30 to 40 of them. This is the first winter in a couple years that I haven’t had Pine Siskins visiting the thistle feeders as well.

American Goldfinch

House Sparrows…an exiting House Finch and American Goldfinch…and some Goldfinches on the thistle feeders. Those feeders were full this morning before I left.

I won’t know if I’m going for a walk tomorrow until I venture out into the yard. Dangerous wind chills are in the forecast. But if the sun is shining as brightly as it did today, it may still seem tolerable. I like to walk at Riverside which is a shorter trek lately anyway, and it’s on my way to the pool. Either way, I likely won’t be going out until something like 9:30. Swimming will be cold enough. I noticed Monday night that the pool has more pockets of colder than warmer water. Keeps me moving!

Winter Solstice – Before and After

Winter doldrums… Most of these photographs – at least most of the ones with birds in them – are from December 10 on one of my more regular visits to Riverside. There were still passerines to be seen, even if they all fell into the predictable variety. The deep-seated cold had not yet found its way to us. So maybe December looks a little bit better than January…

By an offer of little contrast, for instance, below is a scene of the Des Plaines River on December 10, with the water still open, and below it, one from January 19, which was my last visit – with a lot of ice.

Here is likely the last Hairy Woodpecker I saw, in December.

I haven’t seen the Red-bellied Woodpeckers lately either, although I have heard them on occasion. In the gallery below this photo, the somewhat strange-looking backside photo of the woodpecker flying away at least shows off a red belly, so to speak.

American Robins are around all winter, but I don’t always see them.

Northern Flickers are around in winter too, but even more scarce.

Northern Cardinals are even lying low in the colder weather. The second photo was more recent, and the bird was much farther away.

It was still possible to see flocks of Rock Pigeons flying in December, but no more.

Even the little “snow” birds, Dark-eyed Juncos, are less visible lately. It was unusual to have the second bird sit in one place for three photos.

Black-capped Chickadees are hiding.

One very cold-looking Northern Cardinal

Mallards in December sunshine… and January freeze

Trail time before and after snow and ice…

A splatter of lichen

I always like seeing the Hofmann Tower on my way back.

I managed to photograph the two Mourning Doves on my last visit when we caught each other somewhat off guard. Only a couple months ago, I was seeing eight Mourning Doves. I hope these are not the only two left.

Today we have had lots of fluffy, white snow to deal with. It’s not a deluge but the total accumulation might be around 6 or 7 inches, I shoveled my walk and some of my neighbors’ early this morning in time for the few parents and kids who walk to the elementary school down the block. We got another inch or so after that. At least it’s not blowing around. Next up, we dive into the deep freeze, which will probably postpone my walks for yet another few days. So I will be returning to this space with more from past ventures.

Here’s a few more scenes around Riverside Lawn before the deep freeze.

Looking Back to Late August – Part I

It’s another cold, cloudy day with snow in the forecast. The birds have not been flocking to the feeders this morning so much as I expect they are anticipating weather. The thaw was brief and if the ice at the bottom of my back porch stairs is any indication, it’s likely still quite icy at the Portage, so I sat through today’s half-planned walk, sifted through some late summer photographs and will go swimming later.

Late August at the Portage was full of immature birds and a few early fall migrants. These photos are from August 28. Below are two American Redstarts. The paler one could very well be a first-year male, or a female. I tend to forget that some American Redstarts breed in Illinois, they don’t all go farther north, because I have only seen them in migration. But then it’s logical to see them before the other warblers start making their way south. In any event I look forward to seeing them again in the spring.

Juvenile American Robins like the one at the top of the post come in spotty plumage,

American Robin and a Chimney Swift

August is the time of year for spider webs like the one below.

The deer were a lot younger…

and the Portage was lush and green everywhere…

The Yellow Coneflowers were in full bloom, and the Blue Dancer Damselfly was not in a very photogenic location.

I must have gone to the backyard after I got home to see if I could capture any of the birds there. So I managed a shy female Northern Cardinal, a Mourning Dove and what appears to be a Hairy Woodpecker.