They’re Here

I saw some birds this week – in between practicing for the Spring Music Festival which will occur tonight. We had a rehearsal/run through last night and I survived. At least people like the song, so I guess that’s a good indication of something.

We canceled our scheduled walk at Columbus Park this morning because the weather was potentially threatening with the possibility of thunderstorms. We will more than likely have that kind of weather later tonight as we warm up to 70 degrees. But the overnight lows are still predicted to be in the 40’s for the coming week, which delays the yard cleanup even further.

These photos are from Monday at the Chicago Portage. I warn you, there are Way Too Many of them. The warm wave from the two days before brought migrants into the area. It was cooler on Monday so a lot of birds were foraging for food on the ground, like this Pine Warbler sampling seeds on the asphalt path.

Believe it or not these photos are of two separate individuals. I couldn’t capture them close enough to each other for a group photo.

The one Pine Warbler in the trees at first was not recognizable to me, but it turned out to be a Pine, albeit a drab one. The photo of the undertail helped me identify it.

A few more of this bird. Either way, it blends right in with the wood.

Palm Warblers have been all over the place in great numbers. it has gotten so that after taking all these pictures I haven’t bothered much with any of them the rest of the week.

I barely managed a few fuzzy photographs of the Black-and-White Warbler below.

it was delightful to see the return of a Yellow Warbler. One or two always stays the summer at the Portage so I expect to see this species again.

Warblers were not the only thing going on. There were lots of Chipping Sparrows, albeit most of them on the ugly asphalt.

There were a few group photo opportunities.

Palm Warbler and Chipping Sparrows
Chipping Sparrow and Field Sparrow

There were one or two Field Sparrows and then quite a number of White-throated Sparrows through the break in the fence.

Field Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

I saw my first Baltimore Oriole of the year. My feeder will go up tomorrow. As you can see he wasn’t moving much.

Vocally and actively, the Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are back. The lack of light emphasized the the Gray half of their name.

Here’s what the sky looked like that morning.

I had a cooperative White-breasted Nuthatch doing his thing.

Male Northern Cardinals are a little easier to photograph these days as they advertise their territories.

But the lack of light kept everything pretty cool-looking.

In her elusive stage, I managed half of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

My volunteer American Robin. They are all over the Portage now.

The Yellow-rumped Warblers were the first to show up, but now their numbers are diminishing.

The return of water this year is making the place attractive to waterfowl again.

Blue-winged Teal and Canada Geese

It would have been nice to see the rest of the bird below, but I think after going back and forth between Hermit Thrush and Swainson’s Thrush, it’s the latter.

Northern Flickers are determined to not be seen and this one wasn’t any different.

The Great Egret stopped by to see if conditions were conducive to fishing. I can only assume the sight of me changed its mind. But it was back the next day, on the bank of the stream.

I can only imagine what these Mourning Doves were up to. If that’s the male on the right, his neck feathers are iridescent…

I think these are flowers of a Box-elder Maple Tree. I found them attractive.

So thanks to the canceled bird walk and my nap, I was able to finish this offering. If you made it all the way to the end of this post you are a rock star! I must go back to my chores and prepare for this evening’s performance. I hope to be back again sooner after all this. Thanks for checking in and Happy Spring!

Warming Up … Two Steps Forward

On this first day of a four-day warm up not to be missed, I visited the Chicago Portage. I have been there several times in the past few weeks, alternating between the Portage and Riverside, but have not had a chance to do another post for over a week and I apologize. Things have just suddenly gotten so busy I have gone out in the morning when the weather has been tolerable, but have not been able to catch up with my photographs. I apologize for my temporary abandonment of this blog, but this is just a short post before I have to re-immerse myself into figuring out how to play and sing a somewhat complicated arrangement of a song for the Spring Music Festival next week. I spent hours and hours writing out the score just so I could identify where and what chord changes occur. It’s been about 40 years since I last did this sort of thing…

It started out a bit cloudy and cool but the sun emerged and with its warmth came the beautiful bright blue sky which I could not ignore.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was not a lot of new bird activity this morning. I heard far more birds than I saw. But we had some rain yesterday and there are likely storms ahead tomorrow, which just might encourage more birds to visit. I was most thrilled to see a Great Egret at the far end of the stream as I was walking in its direction. I proceeded as slowly as possible but knew that I would eventually be closer than it could tolerate, especially on such a quiet morning this early in the season. But this is the first Great Egret I have seen this year, which makes it likely to expect numbers of them on the Des Plaines River at Riverside where I have been looking out for them. And it’s so special to have a heron on the water at the Portage after last year’s drought made them so scarce. I am hoping for Green Herons to return.

As can be expected, Red-winged Blackbirds were going about their business.

Also on the water, there have been Blue-winged Teal for the past couple weeks. I counted 14 on April 19. Today there were two pair. I didn’t get great photos through the vegetation but at least this couple perched conveniently on a log. I promise more Blue-winged Teal photos when I start getting caught up with previous visits.

In the sparrow department I heard Song Sparrows but didn’t get on them with the camera. I did manage to record a couple Fox Sparrows though.

The Northern Flickers are doing everything they can right now to avoid my lens. It should be easier to capture them later.

With the sunshine, turtles emerged.

For what it’s worth I found some interesting white foliose lichen growing on a dead log.

For the most part there were a heck of a lot of American Robins. Everywhere. So I have to give them some credit, even if none of it is terribly interesting.

American Robin in flight

So, that’s it for my short post today. I hope to be back sooner than I think I can make it. If it rains as predicted tomorrow, maybe I can catch up a bit with some photos from other locations as some warblers are starting to arrive. Indeed I was a bit surprised I didn’t have any warblers this morning as I had several individuals yesterday in Riverside. So I guess I know what my next post should be!

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.

Feeling Warmer in the Sun

I went to the Chicago Portage on Monday morning, the last time we had full sunshine, and I met a lot of birds and some people too. It was cold, but the sunshine gave a little bit more than the illusion of warmth. In all it was good to go slowly and watch the birds, but I took way too many photographs. I wonder how I will manage to get through warbler migration at this rate.

After stopping and talking to some people on the trail and mentioning that Golden-crowned Kinglets had started showing up when they asked me if there was anything new, I encountered about half a dozen of the birds and managed to capture one who volunteered for a lot of clicks.

It was almost worth it to memorialize the blue sky background.

Somewhere next to the trail by some spindly young hackberry trees I saw this very thorny plant that had the only green leaves in the entire preserve. I am not familiar with this at all. I welcome identification from any botanists out there.

I kept waiting for this Northern Flicker to fly so I might capture its golden shafts but it was definitely not going anywhere.

I never know when I will see a pair of Northern Cardinals. In this case I think she was waiting for him.

I spent the longest time behind this bird photographing it without identifying it. Backlit and alone on the path in front of me, it seemed unfamiliar. I have now decided it’s a Brown-headed Cowbird. I think I have never seen one in the cold before – in other words, it was so fluffed up I couldn’t recognize it.

There are a few American Goldfinches at the Portage. Here’s one, early on in my walk, looking rather cold.

If you stood in the right spot on the trail where I suspect asphalt will be going in, it was possible to see American Tree Sparrows everywhere. At some point one sat and started singing, and I tried to record him over a lot of noise. I did manage to get a couple recordings, as faint as they are, and they are below this photograph. I heard one singing earlier this year and compared it to the recording on my Sibley cell phone app which was made in Alaska, where they breed.

I did manage to take too many pictures of American Tree Sparrows fading into their surroundings.

I almost forgot, a Killdeer landed in the marsh and this was the best I could do through the vegetation.