Portage Presents

It’s getting colder. Winter’s last gasp, I hope. But the sunshine returned this afternoon and gave me some well-desired energy that has been lacking the past couple days. This is a little collection of photos from the Chicago Portage earlier this month (and a couple I snuck in from yesterday) – with the exception of some Eastern Towhee photos which I took way back in November. It was to be a reminder to look for their return this spring.

As it turns out, when I visited the Portage yesterday morning in cloudy gloom, I did catch a glimpse of a male Eastern Towhee with the blur of Juncos, White-throats and Song Sparrows. It was impossible to capture a decent image of the bird but I did have proof that it was indeed what I and the camera barely saw.

Below are more photos of the Towhees in early November. The female has her back to us in the top left photo. There were still a few leaves on the trees.

Back to the reality of March 2 and 4.

On March 2, the sun was trying to force its way through the clouds

I spent time staring down a White-throated Sparrow.

The American Tree Sparrows have been faithful to this location all winter.

Downy Woodpeckers are more visible lately chasing around with the sparrow flock, closer to the ground.

On March 4, I encountered a Downy Woodpecker on the paved part of the trail who seemed to be interested in something undetectable by me.

A delicate-looking Dark-eyed Junco

A male Northern Cardinal tolerated my attention briefly, at a distance.

Deer were present earlier this month but I haven’t seen any lately.

Below, the Mallard couple I continue to encounter when the water isn’t frozen.

Sometimes Black-capped Chickadees seem glad to see me.

March 2 was a day for an observing male Belted Kingfisher.

More recently, as in yesterday morning, I briefly saw the female or immature Belted Kingfisher below. It’s definitely a different bird from the one above. As if to prove spring is indeed on the way, more birds are coming through.

I have been seeing House Sparrows a lot more lately, albeit around the parking lot. Even their comings and goings are no doubt affected by the longer days.

European Starlings and House Sparrows

Also never far from the parking lot, American Robins hunting in the grass,

I spent a pensive moment on the trail with a Song Sparrow.

The bottomlands were completely flooded on March 4.

Two more long shots of obliging birds perched over the marsh background.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all those celebrating. The forecast is for wind chills around zero tomorrow morning, mostly cloudy and windy. It doesn’t sound too promising, but I will probably go for a walk around the Portage anyway and see what happens.

Portage Potpourri

I have way too many photographs taking up space on my hard drive, so I decided to do a brief post with just a few of them that were probably more effort to take than they were worth. Yesterday I was totally rained out and I thought that would make me more productive indoors, but after swimming I took too many naps to accomplish anything.

So here’s a small but select group of photos taken on September 4 of last year. It looks like it was overcast. Below, a Swainson’s Thrush, a barely visible back end of a Pine Warbler, and a Tennessee Warbler. Ah yes, remember those birds?

I had the bird below tagged as a juvenile Swainson’s Thrush.

The Portage was in late-summer-stage green and yellow.

And two more – a Bay-breasted Warbler and a Gray-cheeked Thrush,

How about a tree full of backlit Cedar Waxwings?

I didn’t seem to be able to capture any better photos of an American Goldfinch or a young American Robin in that light.

More recently, a low-light day on February 25 – just this past Saturday morning.

The Des Plaines River – from the railroad bridge
A dramatic-looking sky

There was still a little snow left and we hadn’t received so much rain yet.

A few more Red-winged Blackbirds were hanging out.

A White-throated Sparrow scratching around in the snow

I discovered this thoroughly chilly-looking male House Finch in my photos while I was trying to focus on someone else.

I have heard a Song Sparrow singing on my last two visits, so it could have been this one.

A female Northern Cardinal is an expert at blending into her surroundings
A Mourning Dove was trying, as usual, to not be seen
The light was perfect for fungus
Just a pair of Mallards in the water

So sunshine should make a difference, right? I went out this sunny morning to the Chicago Portage. It started out a bit nippy but soon warmed up enough for me to start loosening my layers. Outside of a few robins that did not pose for any length of time, I saw very few birds and heard only a few more. Talked with some humans.

For the first bird beside the robins, right off the parking lot as I started to walk, I saw a Red-tailed Hawk fly and land to perch on a very distant branch obscured by a lot more trees.

One Red-winged Blackbird did offer himself up to me but he was backlit and obscured by twigs.

Then suddenly in the distance, an unmistakable adult Bald Eagle flew, going southeast.

I stopped to glimpse at the bottomlands and the Des Plaines River beyond, which was still in flood stage from yesterday’s rain. It could be too soggy for me to walk in Riverside Lawn tomorrow.

Maybe it was the light, maybe it was the lack of birds, you never know, but I was attracted to the design of this cherry bark.

When I first came in, I saw only one Mallard in the water, but on the way out, I noticed there were two napping in what looks like it could be a possible nest location.

And the young deer were back.

I have now made some more room on my laptop hard drive in anticipation of the coming days ahead. There are still a lot more recent photos to share from other places. As for my motivation to get anything done, sunshine makes all the difference. I hope you are enjoying some sunshine soon, wherever you are.

Winter Scenes at the Portage

We haven’t had much snow this year. That which we have received did not last for long. These photos are from two visits to the Chicago Portage on February 2 and February 7 respectively. There haven’t been a lot of birds available for photographs lately but it’s still good to go out because sometimes the unexpected occurs.

At least it was nice and sunny. American Tree Sparrows are still a possibility.

The Dark-eyed Junco below was barely visible in the snow.

Also tucked into the snow, a Song Sparrow, a male House Finch and another American Tree Sparrow.

The Downy Woodpecker below was a willing subject.

On my way out, I saw a coyote in the distance.

And then I had a brief, close encounter with a Red-bellied Woodpecker and his friend, the White-breasted Nuthatch.

I suspect the man who feeds the deer is responsible for the ridiculous offering below.

On the 7th it was quite cloudy, with most of the snow gone.

The best part of that visit was the local pair of Bald Eagles. Unfortunately because of the light, and the fact that they were fairly distant, I couldn’t get great photos. But it was nice to see them fly over.

Not much going on with this Downy Woodpecker.

And then I caught him briefly in flight.

All the other birds were at a considerable distance and with the lack of light, focusing was problematic. Below, a Song Sparrow, an American Tree Sparrow and a Dark-eyed Junco leaving the bridge.

I did follow a White-throated Sparrow as it foraged for seeds to eat.

A group of American Goldfinches was happy to sit still, probably because they knew they were barely noticeable. This is more goldfinches than I have seen all winter at my feeders. They have been staying in the wild, so to speak, I suspect because it hasn’t been all that cold and bleak and they are still able to find plenty of food.

It’s hard for a male Northern Cardinal to disappear in any season.

I am recovering from a little right-knee setback – thankfully it hasn’t lasted long at all and I am already back to about 97%. It was also a busy weekend with the 21st annual Gull Frolic on Saturday and singing two of my favorite songs with the choir on Sunday morning.

This morning in Riverside, in addition to Northern Cardinals singing, I heard and saw three Red-winged Blackbirds, a Black-capped Chickadee trying out his “hey, sweetie” tune, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers have started singing their quirky song as well. I heard a House Finch vocalizing a couple days ago. An American Robin has been here and there, albeit not singing quite yet. Spring is coming. Any minute now. I hope to be back soon.

Chicago Portage in the Snow

I fully intended to go out for a walk at the Chicago Portage Saturday morning before more snow was predicted to fall. I was completely dressed and ready to go out the door when I made the mistake of checking the weather app on my phone: it indicated snow was starting in fifteen minutes. Since the weather app on my phone has been somewhat inaccurate, I went to my laptop to double-check with the Weather Channel and even more snow was predicted, along with confirmation from the radar. I decided not to take the chance.

Then, almost two hours later, I noticed it was not snowing, so I decided to go for a walk at the Portage anyway, come what may. Upon arrival, I noticed the parking lot had several cars, and it wasn’t until I got out of mine that I was soon reminded of the reason why, it being the last Saturday of the month. The volunteers were at work.

Since it takes a while before I find any birds to photograph these days, the landscape takes precedence.

But then, to interrupt the stillness for a moment at least, a Red-tailed Hawk flew over.

After that I had some clear if distant views of a Red-bellied Woodpecker…

and a White-breasted Nuthatch.

From time to time I have heard of seen Black-capped Chickadees lately, and Saturday was no exception, even if this was my only opportunity to capture one.

The sun tried to emerge from the clouds for moment.

A different view but probably of the same nuthatch, who is also represented at the top of the post.

And I’m including this photo of the Red-bellied Woodpecker because even though most of his body is obscured it shows off his red belly.

A peek at the Des Plaines River, and another view of the Portage stream.

Claiming their own place in the snow on the trail, I noticed two burdock seed pods.

The American Tree Sparrows have been hanging out in the middle of the marshy area, a little bit more visible from the inside trail.

Below is a view of nothing but the typical landscape in the marshy area which I suspect hides more birds than I see on any visit.

Also off the inside trail, but on the other side of it, I managed to find an American Goldfinch, and…

a male House Finch. The lack of light didn’t help.

An added bonus lately has been seeing and hearing White-throated Sparrows. I heard one singing for a short spell on Saturday.

Well-hidden but not far from the trail was a young White-tailed Deer.

By the time I got back to my car, it was snowing in earnest, so I decided to take this snowy shot of the back of the statue.

Now that I can no longer use snow as an excuse for staying home, I decided I can’t use single-digit temperatures as an excuse either. I went out yesterday and this morning, and managed to wield the camera and the lens somehow with double-gloved hands.

The hardest thing is going to be acclimating myself to an earlier rise. I have been taking full advantage of winter weather by sleeping in, but as the days grow longer and eventually warmer, I will have to amend my sleepy ways. I have been waking up to some intricately interesting if stupid dreams, but none of them have proved to be memorable beyond the first minute or two.

I will likely be back with more snow, more clouds, more sun, more birds…and an eventual update on the home flocks inside and out.

More Sunshine?

Apparently I lied in my last post, because as far as I can tell from these pictures, January 10 was sunny as well. At least it was sunny early when I was at the Chicago Portage, and although I did not see very many birds, the visit was still fairly interesting.

Here’s how everything looked when I walked in. It was very quiet.

And then, not too far along the trail, I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a tree on the other side of the stream. Its presence could have explained at least some of the quiet.

On closer inspection, I noticed it had prey – and that turned out to be a Gray Squirrel.

I think the hawk was flushed from its perch by the man I think of as Mr. Peanut (I think our friend George once referred to him as Peanut Pete, but I don’t know his real name) who was walking the inside trail behind it, because when I encountered “Mr. Peanut” walking in the opposite direction he asked me if I saw “that big hawk”. But I’m sure the hawk hadn’t been too happy with me paying such close attention to it either.

Below is one more photo from the previous series – perhaps you can see the squirrel in the hawk’s talons a little easier.

After that, everything else was less exciting. However, the moss and lichen caught my interest in the sunshine.

A female Downy Woodpecker was busy in the deeply furrowed bark of a cottonwood.

I was trying to follow some movement on the ground for a while before I finally saw the face of a Fox Sparrow. Then the sparrow flew up and perched – and sat and stared at me, as they seem to like to do – but it was too backlit for a great photo.

The Northern Cardinals have not been terribly shy lately. I qualify that, though, by noting these photos were taken at some distance.

It appears it was cold enough that morning for the shallower water to be frozen over, eliminating the possibility of waterfowl. However, looking back on the weather for that day, we got up to 51 degrees at some point and the next day, although totally cloudy, was even a bit warmer. All that is over now, however. We are due for some cold weather in addition to snow.

Waking up to light snow this morning, I’m taking a day off from birding, but there were a few birds in the yard that I managed to capture after I swept off the walks, and I’ll keep the camera loaded for any future opportunities. It’s not snowing heavily yet but it looks like that could change. I like the snow. It’s pretty. It feels warmer because of the humidity. And it’s a little brighter than the constant cloud cover.

I’ll be back later with a few images I coaxed out from the gloom.

Oh Foggy Day

We are experiencing a brief, wet warmup. Due to the forecast, I spent most of this morning indoors. As I sat on the futon and began to assemble this post, I wondered if the precipitation outside inspired a number of my indoor birds to bathe in the pie-plate birdbath that sits atop the third finch cage. Furious after-bath feather shuffling and preening aside, the test of the emergency broadcast system on WFMT brought on the usual immediate response of the Zebra Finch Chorus as they yelled back at it collectively. Yesterday they all responded briefly to what sounded like a child’s vocalization outside. But earlier this morning when I heard the municipal alarm tests in the distance, the birds did not comment. Perhaps only certain frequencies elicit their response. One thing is certain. They never seem to find a reason to protest the noise of fireworks that drive me insane every year.

Since the first few days of 2023 have not afforded any notable sightings and I am weary of trying to focus the camera in this gloomy weather, today’s post reflects previous gloomy visits to the Chicago Portage on December 29 and a smidgen from December 13.

On the 29th, I first spotted a distant Downy Woodpecker

There’s probably no good reason to show three nearly-identical photographs of the Fox Sparrow below, which I encountered on the 29th, except that it insisted on sitting still for so long I had to comply with its request to be noticed. I had been walking the trail encountering no birds whatsoever after the Downy for at least fifteen minutes when I heard a sparrow call from the vegetation on the slope next to the trail. I wasn’t sure which species it was, but I decided to stop and respond to the best of my ability in kind with the call. Soon, this Fox Sparrow came out from where it had been hiding and sat directly in front of me. We stared at each other for a moment and then I slowly raised my lens to see if it was possible to get its photograph. Little did I know the bird would be so starved for attention from anyone that it would sit and sit and, well, you get the idea. I finally had to give up my stillness and cause it to move because it might still be perched there if I had not.

That encounter was enough for me to feel like the visit that morning had certainly been worth it. Anything after that would be icing on the cake. As it turned out, there wasn’t much.

One distant falcon flew over and at first I wrote it off as a Cooper’s Hawk but the bend and angle in the wing and the shape of the head suggested otherwise. I’ve decided it was a Merlin.