Portage Afternoon and All Hallows’ Eve

I went to the Portage yesterday in the early afternoon, to take advantage of the sunshine and warmer temperatures for this weekend. I had spent the morning picking up my Chicago Audubon birdseed order to get us through the winter months and unloading the bounty onto the back porch. I placed the order after my accident, not knowing whether I would be able to handle it all myself, but I am proud to report I managed the entire transaction.

There’s even more around the corner…

I had no idea what birds if any I would see on such a windy day. The wind was blowing from the south yesterday. Today it came just as fiercely from the northwest, and our temperatures are reflecting that change, along with clouds that increased the wintry feeling all morning. But yesterday, I was pleased to be greeted first by the Dark-Eyed Junco above who sat patiently for several shutter clicks. After spending much of last fall and winter trying to get a good picture of a Junco, this behavior was extremely welcome.

The female below Northern Cardinal was actually cooperative in that she stayed in one secluded spot for more than a second…but turned her back on me after she figured I’d seen enough.

So I wasn’t hearing or seeing too much of anything, but I decided to go through the opening in the fence anyway and walk back on the trail leading to the train tracks. Nothing much going, but walking back I encountered a couple Golden-Crowned Kinglets who were enthusiastically foraging at my feet. They made the outing for me.

An odd-looking tree stump profile from the trail on the way in
Gone to seed

I feel like I should have seen more sparrows, but they were keeping well hidden. The Fox Sparrow below was through a fence.

There were more White-Throated Sparrows but I barely saw a couple – I was able to capture this rather distant one only.

A disgruntled-looking American Goldfinch – she was being blown about quite a bit on her perch.

On the way back from the Portage I stopped to buy a bag of candy. I had not prepared at all for trick-or-treaters but it wasn’t clear if we would even have any. I figured I had better be ready just in case. I put the contents of the bag in a basket on the front porch and proceeded to clean my living room as usual for Saturday night, maybe heard a child’s voice or two but saw no one, and the basket remained full of candy. I brought the basket in and went out front onto the empty sidewalk with the camera to try and capture the “Blue Moon” or second full moon of the month, as I understand it. It’s difficult to get a good image with the street lamps, but it was still so warm outside it was worth trying anyway. The neighborhood was eerily quiet for Halloween.

Two views of yesterday’s Portage in autumn…

One more of a kinglet somewhat in flight…

The forecast for the coming week – weather-wise – looks to be mild and uneventful. I hope I will be able to visit the Portage again next weekend. It’s still hard to imagine how topsy-turvy life has become. I am glad I was able to set the turmoil aside for a couple hours yesterday. In the meantime I will be trying to capture the Big Male Hairy Woodpecker that has been coming to a suet feeder. He looks like Attila the Hun next to my usual Downy visitors. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you have a safe and peaceful week.

Finally, Pine Siskins

After reading about the irruption of Pine Siskins for weeks, I kept wondering how I could have possibly missed seeing them. The species showed up in my yard for the first time in January of this year and I fondly remembered their cheery presence. I thought I might have seen one or two last week but I couldn’t be sure, and had to discount it as wishful thinking. Then last Sunday morning as I stood on the back porch, there they were. Only two of them, but they were all I needed to restore my faith in something. They didn’t stay long. Maybe they were playing hooky from some large flock somewhere.

The House Sparrows outnumber everybody else, of course.

Last Saturday was the first time I dared go out with my usual camera setup. The camera weighs two pounds and the lens is another three and a half. It doesn’t sound like a lot of weight but it’s dense and massive. Then there’s the issue of adjusting the focus with my left hand. My fingers are still slightly swollen and stiff, and I can’t maneuver entirely without pain. But I am in the painful stage of physical therapy now so I may as well enjoy my suffering and take pictures.

I had come to see if there were Sandhill Cranes – and there were, a few – but the skies were dominated by Canada Geese. Unfortunately the owners of the surrounding farms were hunting them. I didn’t see any fall from the sky but I wasn’t looking either, it was bad enough to hear the gunshots. Something else to think about when I visit this place in the fall.

Canada Geese

Some flora caught my eye.

The first two birds I saw on the trail going in were Cedar Waxwings.

A burning bush?

It was nice to see this young White-crowned Sparrow.

So there were some Sandhills. I won’t be able to get back up there this year to see hundreds or thousands that sometimes come through, but I did have a good time talking with a crane enthusiast who visits there a lot and knows their habits. He said he was waiting for a big push of cold weather from Wisconsin and that would bring down a lot of cranes. He is hoping to see a Whooping Crane this year.

Not a lot of land birds but it was a beautiful morning. I was surprised to see the Blue Jay arrive and announce himself, and pose for a couple pictures.

I always see Crows here and that makes me happy.

Below are the last pictures I took the previous Saturday morning at the Portage, with the mirrorless camera. It takes nice photographs, but I haven’t figured out how to get it to focus all the time.

So I was frustrated when I saw the Blue-headed Vireo below so well, but I couldn’t get the camera to see it as clearly as I did.

My closest shot of one of the Sandhills from Goose Lake Natural Area…

Between work, physical therapy, waking up to this, that, or the other pain, trying not to let the news cycle interrupt a deeper thought process, there have been moments of peace and flashes of contentment, even a little creativity. I have missed seeing more birds and autumn color. This is usually my favorite time of year. I am looking forward to setting the clocks back so there will be more light in the morning. My indoor birds are good sports. They are helping me write a song about looking for an answer to a question I haven’t figured out yet.

Marching Mirrorless

Sunday morning I ventured out with the mirrorless camera, after not using it for a year. I determined the length of time when I found photographs I had taken on October 24, 2019 still on the memory card, and some of them are further down this post. I had been using the camera for my occasional walks around the part of the southwest Loop where the office is located.

When I went out Sunday, I didn’t have any great expectations for pictures of birds, but I did manage a few. The last post featured goldfinches foraging in the duck weed and this one has Yellow-Rumped Warblers.

Below is the only Palm Warbler I managed to capture in some focus. I may get more practice with this camera this weekend. It’s small enough for me to hold steady with my left hand.

I love fall colors.

The geese flew over this time. They didn’t land.

This is what the path looks like when I first enter the Portage.

Below are some pictures I took last October. Hermit Thrushes and White-Throated Sparrows in a city park-like setting. I miss seeing the park crowd.

Even the House Sparrows looked good that day.

Common Yellowthroat female
White-throated Sparrow

Some things are still best depicted with a cell phone camera. Below is the loaf of bread I made Sunday night. It was finally cool enough to turn on the oven, and I had enough mobility in my left hand to manage the loaf and then even hold it still so I could slice it (that was the hardest part).

I just had my sinks routed out today after years and years of accumulated waste, likely from cleaning the cages in the basement and then more recently, hulling the sprouts I grow. I have learned my lesson, ordered some drain filters, and I can be more careful as I start to feel more capable doing my chores.

We are presently having a lovely spell of warmer weather – I suppose it’s what may still be called “Indian Summer” – before the fall and winter settle in. I have not been able to determine whether the term has met its socially approved expiration date, so I use it with caution and due respect here.

Today on the radio, I’m hearing things I used to play and find myself longing to touch the piano keys again. I’m not quite ready, my fingers are still a wee bit swollen and stiff. But there’s an element of renewal in recovery and I am embracing it for all its worth. I hope you are finding something good in your day to hang your hat on. Onward.

Double-dipping Goose Lake Natural Area

After groveling about making the long drive all the way up to McHenry County around Memorial Day, I went back on July 5th to celebrate my birthday and then again on July 25th. Needless to say now I’m getting used to the drive and the trail and I may have a hard time staying away before October which is when I plan to go back for Sandhill Cranes that purportedly congregate in the fallow farm fields.

I feel like I could start giving some of the individual birds names, like the Willow Flycatcher at the top of the post. I even heard a confirming “fitz-bew” on the last Saturday.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (male)

I expected to see more Yellow-headed Blackbirds. On the fifth, the males were really too far away for decent photographs, but I did get to see a female close to the observation deck. I went back on the 25th because I wanted to see many juveniles like I did years ago, but I couldn’t find one Yellow-headed Blackbird anywhere. I must have just missed them. But that’s okay, because I saw some other interesting birds, and it’s just so peaceful to be there. In fact on the second visit when I got there, I had the whole place to myself. I didn’t stay long though because it was very hot.

I found the Gallinule below in my photographs from both visits. This is a great place to go if you carry a spotting scope. But I don’t have the energy to carry a scope and a telephoto lens. Perhaps I should rethink my philosophy of cutting corners. For instance, the combination of two visits in this blog post – it’s becoming evident as I write it that it’s entirely too long.

I did see a pair of Sandhill Cranes on each visit. I have not seen any with offspring, which is a bit disappointing.

Another “only in my photos” discovery – a last Black Tern seen on the 5th. Well, my camera saw it.

Here’s the turtle covered with duck weed that appeared in the background of one of the Yellow-headed Blackbird photos above. If you click on the pictures you can see how the duck weed makes it look like something from another planet.

There are still a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds here and everywhere. They are in no hurry to leave, I suppose, because they won’t have so far to go in the fall.

Not a Red-winged Blackbird but a juvenile Cedar Waxwing

I was hoping I would find a Yellow-headed Blackbird when I blew this up but it turned out to be a Red-winged Blackbird. That’s okay, it’s kind of nice to see the feather pattern, albeit faded. Below the photo, two different Red-winged calls I heard on these visits.

A Killdeer in flight…

The “other” blackbird – Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Dragonflies like this place.

On both occasions there were swallows, but in particular on the 25th there seemed to be a lot of them. It was nice to see the Bank Swallows – I don’t see them very often.

The Song Sparrow below was on the 5th. There are two more individuals further down the post whose songs I recorded and put underneath their photographs.

This Yellow Warbler was the last one I saw, on the 5th.

I am quite sure this is probably the same Great Blue Heron, although the photos are from both occasions.

I always seem to startle this Great Egret, which must have been right by the viewing platform as I approached.

A Green Heron flew by twice on the 25th.

Here’s Song Sparrow No. 1 and Song Sparrow No. 2. Song Sparrows reportedly have thousands of songs so it’s not unusual that they were singing different tunes…

And another singer I was happy to record – and manage to photograph, as they are often elusive in the marsh – a Marsh Wren.