Spring Comes to the Portage

Too many birds, too many pictures and not enough time. How can that be? I give up, at least for the moment. Yesterday’s summery sunshiny weather produced some wonderful encounters with birds that simply cannot wait. Pushing all my other planned posts, aside, here we go!

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers have arrived in abundance and were generally the first to distract me. They are notoriously difficult to photograph but yesterday was the exception. In the sequence below this perched bird, I happened upon a Blue-Gray at waist-level, focused on obtaining web filaments for its nest.

It was a treat to see this Swainson’s Thrush, however briefly..

Another skulker I don’t think I’ve ever seen here before was the Northern Waterthrush below. I was sitting down on a rock-like seat that looks over the water and noticed something moving.

Every year when I hear House Wrens I have to refigure them out, I don’t know why. And then they just sing ad infinitum before I ever see one. I managed to glimpse this one way up high in a treetop.

Not that I’m lacking for pictures, but this Tree Swallow didn’t make it into the last post and is here to represent the ones I saw yesterday but did not get a chance to photograph.

So now we come to the highlight of my day. It had been a sort of slow morning, actually, compared to the day before – which I hope to get around to in a not-too-distant future post – and I was a bit disappointed that I was seeing hardly any warblers. I speculated maybe the warm and calm winds on Saturday night were favorable to migrants continuing their voyages north and they weren’t stopping if they didn’t have to. So as I walked slowly back down the trail from where I’d seen the Waterthrush, I stopped when I heard a call that might be described as a sneezy trill followed by raspberries. It had been so long since I studied warbler calls, I wasn’t sure, so I checked the Sibley app on my phone as quietly as possible, and sure enough, I was in the presence of a Blue-Winged Warbler. I haven’t seen more than an unsatisfying glimpse of a Blue-Winged in years. So when two of them showed up in front of me, I was temporarily transported to bliss, away from the extra weight of being human lately. I could almost hear them saying “Hey, lady, nice Portage you got here.”

Among the other creatures coming back to life at the Portage, turtles and frogs.

Painted Turtle

There was this Chorus Frog American Toad crossing the trail. He sang for me. I have placed a brief recording of his song below him. Unfortunately, there’s a slow-moving freight train in the background. – Thanks to my friend Leslie, I have been corrected. I thought he looked more like a toad but I didn’t know toads sing!

In the sparrow department, a Chipping Sparrow, one of several elusive but very vocal Song Sparrows and a couple somewhat backlit photos of a Swamp Sparrow.

Most numerous at the moment are probably the White-Throated Sparrows but they’re just passing through.

White-Throated Sparrow

Warbling Vireos are back in force. I heard more on Saturday than I did yesterday but I managed to slightly photograph this one.

Warbling Vireo
Northern Cardinal in a nice spot, if distant

A Great Blue Heron flew right over my head.

Two common species of butterfly have been around this week, the Painted Lady and the Red Admiral.

Baltimore Orioles have arrived. I wonder if they’re possibly the same ones that visited my yard for the last time on Friday (I had three at once).

I was almost at the parking lot when I heard, and then saw, three Indigo Buntings – on the paved trail. They must have just arrived – getting their bearings, so to speak, because I have never seen them so tame. I’m sure I’ll be struggling to get any pictures of them the rest of the breeding season.

Here’s another Indigo Bunting I saw a bit earlier.

One of many singing male American Goldfinches

Ruby-Crowned Kinglets are still around, although I think these must be the females as I haven’t seen a red crown patch on any individuals for a week or more. But this one sure is a cutie.

A few views of the landscape.

Turtles basking in the sun.

The Portage is starting to green up. Pretty soon the water will be entirely green with duck weed.

This has to be my favorite photograph – the Blue-Winged showing off his worm.

Maybe you can tell I’ve been writing this post in fits and starts. It’s a bit disorganized because I inadvertently clicked on the “group” feature which seems to have cemented some unintended parts together, but I’m too lazy to start over again.

We have dropped thirty degrees back into cooler temperatures, and I guess that’s okay for Monday, but I want to hold onto the beauty of this past weekend as long as possible. I am thankful for spring migration and for my indoor birds, making it easier to get out of bed in the morning – albeit earlier and earlier as the days get longer!

Late April Goose Lake

With the forecast of only one nice day this past weekend, I planned to go to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, which has become one of my favorite, if distant, destinations. One doesn’t know what to expect when venturing out these days. I knew I could count on the absence of crowds, even if there were some people walking, riding bikes, running, birding. Luckily this is a vast expanse and I could still feel quite alone most of the time, however I now take that sentiment in current context.

Starting down the Hebron Trail…

The walk is long to the Goose Lake part – at least it seems to take forever. There were not a lot of birds along the way this early in the season to distract me, but there was certainly a lot of up-and-coming moss.

The main attraction to me, then, was the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. The females haven’t started arriving yet as far as I can tell, but I wanted to be there when the males were setting up territories so I could hear them sing. With all the Red-Winged Blackbirds singing, they didn’t seem to vocalize in long phrases, but I did manage to get a recording, albeit with a lot of wind noise, of their characteristic rusty-crank-sounding song. The short song clip is below these photographs.

I might add that the Yellow-Headeds were far away and rather secretive. I want to go back in a few weeks to see if I can get a better look.

There were several Song Sparrows and I managed to get a few photographs of them. They had some lovely songs too. I almost wish I could have left the camera and recorded vocalizations, but it was windy that day anyway.

Another likely breeding sparrow in this habitat is the Swamp Sparrow. I was lucky to encounter the beauty below.

I miss Crows a lot. It’s been a chronic ache that started with my job location three years ago, made worse by the current situation banning visits to lakefront parks. So another thing I like about this location is that I always get to see Crows.

I confess I wasn’t paying an awful lot of attention to Red-Winged Blackbirds, but I did find this guy attractive. There’s a female in three photos below him.

I had to look hard to see the Goose on her nest below.

There were still a few Ruby-Crowned Kinglets here and there.

As I turned to go back, three crows were harassing a Red-Tailed Hawk.

I got distracted by a little more plant life and my first ladybug of the year.

There was an elusive Red-Bellied Woodpecker off the side of the wooded trail as I walked back.

I have been working harder than ever from home which was not at all what I expected when this whole pandemic thing began. As long as it’s raining I don’t mind so much. Oh well. Tomorrow is May 1.

Last Weekend at the Portage: Coming Back to Life

I can’t believe another week has gone by already. While it seems like time should be moving slowly, I am finding it to be the opposite as my days at home fill up with work and chores. It’s as if I never left my schedule. And yet because I am home, it sometimes seems like I don’t have a schedule.

Winter returned twice this week and I was going to post a few pictures of birds in the snow but time got away from me and I’m not feeling too nostalgic for snow at the moment. It’s still chilly overnight but I think we are finally going to start warming up. And of course the question lurking right behind that is, Then What?

I went to the Portage last Saturday and Sunday mornings, because both days turned out fairly decent weather-wise. The variety of species differed somewhat between the two days, in that the Yellow-Rumped Warblers who posed for pictures and the one Ruby-Crowned Kinglet were present on Saturday but not detectable on Sunday. That sort of thing. On the other hand, I had the Bluebird on Sunday. So it goes.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler
American Robin

I’ve been seeing Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (I call them “Sappies”) in the neighborhood all week, and had one in my yard last weekend, but this is the only one I’ve been able to sort of capture so far.

There were a lot of White-Throated Sparrows, or at least more of them than the other species. Below this grouping is a short recording of one of them singing. He had a really nice version of their song, which has always been one of my favorites.

I had no idea what was going on with these Red-Winged Blackbirds on the trail as I approached them on Saturday, but on Sunday I noticed that someone has been leaving a little pile of birdseed, so that explains the gathering and likely the behavior. Feeding the animals is a no-no. But I imagine there are more people walking the trails these days than normally do, and I think that’s a good thing. Maybe we will all treasure being outside more after our quarantine subsides.

The Tree Sparrow was seen on Saturday and not on Sunday. I don’t expect to see one again until late fall.

The female Red-Wingeds have now joined the males and everybody’s ready to start working on the next generation. On Saturday I must have had more than 50 Red-Winged Blackbirds at the Portage. I don’t think I ever saw that many last year. It could be some were passing through. It will be interesting to see how many remain to nest.

There was one male Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with a couple of Mallards.

I only got a glimpse of the crown on this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Woodpeckers – there were a lot of Northern Flickers. And Downy Woodpeckers are always present. I always hear a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, but don’t always see one. It was also nice to see a Hairy Woodpecker. I keep hoping I will see a Red-Headed Woodpecker here again.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This looks like a young male Red-Winged Blackbird. He must be a late-bloomer.

Robins are everywhere.

As things are just starting to turn green, mosses were attractive.

People have been reporting Hermit Thrushes so I was happy to see one. I miss seeing half a dozen of them at once downtown in the city, but maybe it’s better to see one in the woods than a lot of them on turf grass.

Hermit Thrush

There were two Turkey Vultures flying around, at then at one point they landed in the trees.

A lovely Mrs. Cowbird. What more can I say?

The trees are starting to bud and this will all burst into green soon.

If you click on the dove pictures you can see nesting material in its bill easier.

There are a lot of Cardinals at the Portage but they’re not always easy to capture, especially this time of year when they’re busy setting up territories.

So here is the Bluebird of Happiness. I don’t get to see Bluebirds too often, so this was a special treat.

I plan to go out this weekend and with any luck, there will be even more birds to see. Migration continues, and I suspect the birds are having a better time of it without so much human interruption.

Home is Where the Birds…Are!

I thought I’d be returning to this page with pictures from my travels but my plans have been derailed by local distractions. It seems I cannot stand at the kitchen sink and look out the window for more than a minute before a Downy Woodpecker is on the suet feeder that hangs from the sumac tree.

I planned to go to the Portage yesterday, but the weather kept me home with 35 mph winds and gusts of up to 50 miles per hour and also flood warnings along the Des Plaines. I decided not to take the chance of being blown around the trail with the possibility of trees falling on me. The Portage is likely high enough above the Des Plaines River basin not to be affected too much by its flooding but I wasn’t all that curious either. Not sure if fear of catching or spreading a virus is making me more timid to take any chances at all. Combining the weather warnings with cloudy skies and birds predictably hunkered down, I decided it was advisable to stay home. But I would go out for a walk a little later, just to experience the wind at a safe distance.

As it turned out, soon after I was out the front door, three, possibly four, Turkey Vultures appeared, coasting about on the wind. They were sallying around the neighborhood for half an hour at least. Then when I returned to my front door, I heard a nearby Dark-Eyed Junco, and got lucky with one and then another perching in the little apple tree where they posed for a minute or two. I have been trying to take pictures of Juncos for months to no avail, but have managed the past couple days to photograph the ones that visit my yard. I wonder if the birds are more curious about me, now that they are relatively free of constant human activity.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Most of the photographs below are from one sunny day last week, March 25. I went out and sat in the back of the yard soaking up the sunshine. It was midday, not the optimum for light conditions, but outside was the place to be, relatively warm, hanging out with the feeder crowd.

Even the local songster Northern Cardinal made a guest appearance…!

On Saturday afternoon late, when there were no birds in the yard, I saw the reason why. I couldn’t get very good images between the lack of light and the window screens on the porch, but here is a very hungry looking Cooper’s Hawk.

Of course as I tried to sneak out the back door for a better photo, it left.

Below is a little expression inspired by the indoor crowd yesterday. I’ve titled it “Minimalist Zebra Finches” and, of course, they participated enthusiastically.

Minimalist Zebra Finches

The Mourning Doves below: I love how the male is “politely” chasing the female. I tried to capture how his neck was lit up in the second photograph.

It must have been the lighting – I was pretty far away – but this is an interesting-looking House Sparrow.

And there are worms to be had for the Robin…

Spring is coming. The days are getting longer. It’s nice to know some things haven’t changed.

Taking Stock

I started writing this post on Friday, after I took a break from the work email and made a trip to The Feed Store to stock up on birdseed, peanuts and spray millet for those inside and out. Working from home is so strange. In my head I am still working, but home has all its necessary distractions. I keep thinking I will have gotten used to it only when I have to go back to the office. It was still good to get out, and even better to get exercise moving everything into the house and the back porch. It was a chilly, gray day, but it is March, which my mother always used to refer to as the “adolescent” month, so I endure its changeability with her blessing.

Speaking of adolescents, I suppose the bird below could be called an adolescent Purple Finch. I am at a loss as to why I took so many photographs of it, but when in this plumage maybe the last thing I’m thinking is “Purple Finch” so it’s a reminder.

As I may have mentioned previously, I moved a lot of photographs off the laptop recently. Many were of winter scenes never shared, but I was tired of winter and it’s more than enough enduring this winter of the soul, so I have gone back to the remaining pictures from my trip to New Brunswick last August. And in that location at that time of year, there were a lot of in-between looking birds getting ready to make their first trips south for the winter.

I particularly got a kick out of this Yellow-Rumped Warbler. My friend Lesa tells me she has already seen some of these guys locally as they start to go back north. I could fantasize this was one of them.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I’m too lazy to go back and try to reconstruct exactly when we were wherever on August 20 but my notes say we were on the Salt Marsh Trail and Callendar’s Trail with a beach picnic area in Kouchibouguac National Park, which likely accounts for the shorebird images and others with wide open spaces for a background. We also visited the C. Irving Arboretum.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch
Short-billed Dowitchers
Common Tern
White-faced Meadowhawk (male)
Belted Kingfisher
Common Raven

Thanks for stopping by and joining this visual journey. I will be back soon with more images from last summer. Spring is coming, and with it, hope for renewal.

Snow: Before and After

Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage

Yesterday morning I got up and went to see how the birds were doing at the Portage. It was a cold, windy, bleary morning, and as far as I could tell, nobody was having a good time.

When the large black blob in the distance turned out to be a windblown Bald Eagle, I was encouraged to investigate. I couldn’t get very close to where it was perched high above the railroad tracks.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t singing much. This one appeared to look as if he was reconsidering his early arrival.

I did finally manage to see one of perhaps four Song Sparrows who were carrying on vocally as if spring had sprung. But he wasn’t flaunting his presence.

Perhaps the nicest surprise was an Eastern Phoebe. I felt for him, though, as there were no bugs to eat and it made me wonder what else he could get by on a couple days before the scheduled warmup.

Even the Robins weren’t having a good time.

The cardinals have been singing for weeks. They started earlier than the Robins. There was one singing along with the piano a few days ago. I was surprised, since the windows aren’t open. He must have heard the keyboard through the front door and I assume he was perched on the little apple tree outside of it. Below is a recording of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, and just at the end where I start playing some other chords you can hear the cardinal singing along.

Northern Cardinal at the Portage
Cardinal singing with us toward the end of this clip

This Downy Woodpecker was foraging low with the sparrows.

I never did see if there was a hen sitting on a presumably well-hidden nest who belonged to this Mallard but he was definitely taking it easy.

I really hoped we were done with this snow stuff, although it was less than a minor inconvenience considering I didn’t have to go anywhere and it has now melted away. These few photos are from yesterday afternoon through the porch windows. The wet snow was falling and I didn’t feel like joining the birds in it, but I wanted to commemorate its arrival since I banished all my snow-in-the-yard photos from this “past” winter to external storage to make room for spring.

I’ve gone back to the photos from my August trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan and hope to follow with a post or two featuring bright sunshiny blue skies shortly.

I hope you are in good health, and pray you are making some sense out of all the chaos. We will get through this.

Going the Distance

It’s a slow, steady drip as the bucket of What Next is filling rapidly and seems about to overflow. I keep falling back into the grounding exercises that keep me going. Bake a loaf of bread. Go for a walk in the woods. Chocolate-covered almonds.

I voted yesterday morning. I wonder now if it was worth the effort. After cutting my little voter ID card out of the flyer I received in the mail weeks ago, I walked around the block to the elementary school entrance where the polls were open. The voter ID was identical to the two older ones that were still living in my wallet, but I wanted to make everything as easy as possible for the over-taxed election officials. I have voted in every election since I moved here 19 years ago. But yesterday, I could not be found in the system. I had to re-register. When I did finally get my paper ballot, which was what I preferred anyway over the new voting machines that weren’t working, my ballot could not be scanned until some future time when the scanner would be operating. I hope things improved after I left and went into the office for the last time until further notice. I worked a full day and came home to my birds and to ponder my newly-enforced remote existence.

These photographs are from Sunday. The morning was cloudy so I spent some time in the yard trying to get pictures of my most frequent visitors. The Goldfinches are still dominating the action. I estimated there were perhaps forty or more of them, outnumbering the House Sparrows. That’s a thing.

The afternoon promised sunshine so I decided to check McGinnis Slough. As usual, most of the birds were waterfowl way beyond my ability to distinguish them, and I had not felt like taking my scope. There were pitifully few passerines. In fact, I did not see or hear one Red-Winged Blackbird, which seems very odd, especially after having them at the Portage last week.

There were a lot of Northern Shovelers, and I managed to get one in flight early on. Beyond that, the only “near” bird that stood out was a Blue-Winged Teal.

Rain is in the forecast for today, tomorrow and Friday. So I will definitely have to go out this weekend. The gym was officially closed for business yesterday, so I can’t swim. I am going to try to work from home, which is something I never did very often to begin with. But all connection now will be over the Internet entirely, save for the very few times I may have to go out and buy something. I have enough food for myself to likely last a year. (As for toilet paper, I ordered a case of bamboo toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap months ago and just opened it recently. I am not in the habit of giving plugs to anybody but they seem to be a worthwhile organization, donating a portion of their profits to providing sanitation facilities in underdeveloped areas of the world. Unfortunately if you are so tempted, they are out of stock as well, I just checked.) If I need to buy anything, it will be food for the birds that will dictate my immediate spending habits.

The weekend provided a little entertainment indoors. My Zebra Finches found interest in my socks, and I started to build a little musical interlude with Dudlee’s cooing for inspiration.

Here are a few more pictures from Sunday’s yard. I’m getting restless to start cleaning it up but we still have the possibility of frost. However, I suspect projects will develop with the enduring isolation. Beyond music and other indoor diversions, I need exercise and I need to go outside. Plain and simple. I’ll likely visit the Portage a lot more these next few weeks, to monitor the beginnings of Spring Migration.

Scruffy-looking male American Goldfinches are molting away into their breeding plumage.

I hope you are all safe and well and finding some solace in the extra peace and quiet that is inevitable with sequestration. I also hope your connections with loved ones are substantial and enduring. We can all discover a lot more about ourselves when we’re tested like this. Let’s look for a silver lining somewhere in all of this and the world comes together for the common good.

Spring Fever on Hold

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see Red-Winged Blackbirds arrive at the Portage and start singing. It’s likely an intense desire to embrace any sense of Normal.

All these photos are from a quick trip to the Chicago Portage last Sunday morning, after the clocks were set ahead. There were not a lot of birds, but I managed to capture a few.

I’m happy to see the Robins returning too. The anticipation of spring is palpable. Now, if I can just get over the time change. It’s hard to get up in the morning, in the dark. Even harder perhaps knowing that nearly everything has been put on hold for voluntary, and increasingly involuntary, “self-distancing.”

After a fairly well-attended choir rehearsal on Wednesday, we received notice yesterday that the temple will be closed for the next four weeks, which totally puts on hold our entire schedule. We were to sing on Sunday and prepare for our special Choir Sunday on the 29th, but that’s not going to happen. No rehearsal, no services. We will stay tuned, but I know without rehearsal, it will be harder to hold those notes when we resume.

I managed to capture this Rusty Blackbird flying in with the Red-Wingeds, likely on his way north.

Even European Starlings are returning. They used to be present year-round but in the last few years I’ve missed their presence in the dead of winter.

There are always Downy Woodpeckers, though I might not always see them.

Same goes for the Black-capped Chickadees. It was chilly and windy but the days are getting longer and the birds have their work ahead of them.

Flyovers included a singular Ring-Billed Gull and One American Crow. I suppose Crows are a reminder of what happens if you don’t “self-distance”, as in the spread of West Nile Virus.

On the trail that runs behind the opening in the fence and runs parallel to the Des Plaines River, I witnessed a flurry of White-Breasted Nuthatch activity with what appeared to be one male and two females.