Looking Back on October 23rd

Not yet a month ago, I stepped out of my front door on October 23rd with the intention of visiting the Chicago Portage and was immediately summoned to action by the calls of American Crows. Crows make a racket whenever there’s a predator around, and sure enough, a Red-tailed Hawk was perched on my neighbor’s radio antenna across the street.

What ensued was Crows chasing the hawk, which gave me some lovely images against a cloudless sky.

When the three Crows had dispensed of the Red-tailed Hawk, they perched on the antenna for a moment, perhaps reflecting on their successful mission.

I got into my car and drove over to the Portage to savor one of those last beautiful fall days.

Yellow-rumped Warblers hadn’t left yet. It was a challenge to pick one out from the fallen leaves on the grass off the parking lot.

An American Goldfinch blended in with the dried up foliage.

It’s been a difficult season to capture a White-throated Sparrow well. I became more intrigued with the pattern on the back of this one.

White-throated Sparrow

I think this was the last time I saw a Gray Catbird.

I reported 16 Golden-crowned Kinglets but barely captured this one.

It was still possible to see Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging in the duckweed-covered stream, and of course Mallards were making their way through the muck of it all.

I counted four Hermit Thrushes that day as I found them all over the preserve. Later going through my photos I thought I had a Gray-cheeked Thrush, but it came up rare on ebird and I didn’t feel like arguing the point when the Hermit Thrush I was also photographing had distinctly dark spotting on the breast.

One thing I did notice a lot this year was Hermit Thrushes standing flicking their tails upward.

So here’s the bird I think was a Gray-cheeked Thrush. It seems crazy to report it almost a month later. I think I’ll pass on this enigma.

More American Goldfinches blending in with the fall colors.

All these leaves and their colors have left us by now.

Perhaps my biggest surprise that day was seeing an Eastern Phoebe. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t a pair at the Portage all summer, but it was nice to see this one coming through so late. I couldn’t stop taking photos of it.

And the birds I will be seeing all winter were becoming more visible, like this male Downy Woodpecker.

I always hear and generally see Black-capped Chickadees but they don’t always give me great opportunities for photographs, so I took this one up on its offer.

I will be back soon with photos from more recent local expeditions. I just wanted to share this before it got too far away from me.

We are feeling winter’s grip this week. Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow and Wednesday. I guess it’s only fitting that the temperatures match the ever-diminishing hours of daylight. Even though I bought a nice little lamp to light up my music, I think I’ll have to start playing piano just a little bit earlier. Maybe the best thing about all this is comfort food, particularly soup and bread.

Columbus Park: 2 Extracurricular Visits

We Oak Park bird walk people got together twice more to visit Columbus Park on October 15 and 29 respectively. The 15th was definitely birdier with plenty of Golden-crowned Kinglets showing off.

A rather familiar sight in the pond at Columbus Park is a gaggle of Canada Geese and that day was no exception.

You may remember the Great Blue Heron at the back door of the Refectory from the last time we were there. It was back in the same spot again.

The leaf color was a factor on that sunny morning, making nice backgrounds for the birds.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

I was delighted to find this series of photos of a Golden-crowned Kinglet.

We had several sparrow species that day too. Unfortunately they weren’t always that easy to see. Below is a Swamp Sparrow and then beneath it, a Clay-colored Sparrow.

I got several photos of a Song Sparrow in a thicket trying hard not to be seen.

And I nearly missed photographing this Fox Sparrow.

There were Dark-eyed Juncos, with this one being the only one I managed to capture. Sometimes all you see of a Junco is its white tail feathers flashing.

We also had a Brown Creeper. I think it’s the last one I have seen this fall.

At some point perhaps over 200 Canada Geese flew overhead and then landed in the water.

Here are some more photos of the Golden-crowned Kinglet at the top of the post.

A Palm Warbler was present in the wildflower garden.

Sometimes an American Robin can be interesting, as I found this one flying over the water.

The next time we met on October 29, the water looked like this. It’s a beautiful reflecting pool. Notice there were no birds in it.

We saw hardly any birds at all that morning after covering our usual bases. However, a Great Blue Heron did us a favor and landed right in front of us.

It was only around 9:15 AM when we decided to call it quits. I had an errand to run and then decided to go over to the Chicago Portage to see what was happening there. Being the last Saturday of the month, the volunteer crew was on hand, noisily sawing trees somewhere off the inside trail. So that part of the preserve was off limits. But logic told me the birds might be somewhere else and I did find quite a few on the outside trail.

There were White-throated Sparrows.

And a few American Goldfinches.

And some House Finches were present too.

One of several busy Downy Woodpeckers.

A Dark-eyed Junco was foraging on the second bridge.

Milkweed seed pods caught my eye.

I found another late Nashville Warbler.

Of course there were some Golden-crowned Kinglets. This was the only one I managed to capture in a pensive moment. There were other species as well, but the photos aren’t worthy of your attention.

The weather kept me reluctant to walk the trails the last two mornings. This morning was a study in fog and drizzle. I look forward to going a bit farther tomorrow. We are promised sunshine. And we are still well above freezing. I will be back.

Reconnected – Two Days Later

My two days without Internet service are over. With enough access on my phone, I confess I hardly missed it. But now that I am able to publish photos from the camera again, I want to get this post out of my system.

I was thrilled to find a Winter Wren in my backyard on Thursday afternoon. I had been to the Chicago Portage in the morning seeing very little. And after about a week of seeing or hearing Winter Wrens every day I was not encountering them anymore. Then this little delightful creature showed up in my yard. My messy, full of trees, leaves and spent tall native flowers and grasses yard – just the place for a fall migrant. I think the wren was actually attracted to the remaining mess by the back fence where the tree stumps had been removed. When I have encountered Winter Wrens they often seem to be messing around in dead wood.

Fallen leaves from my Hawthorn Tree

Here are a couple more fleeting photos of the Winter Wren.

I had first seen the wren when I went out to refill the birdbaths, so I went back in the house and grabbed the camera. It was a nice enough day to sit in the yard for half an hour or so and observe whatever activity was available. There was a predictable, endless stream of House Sparrows.

But then I saw something moving in the clump of spent flowers that had planted themselves just off the back porch stairs. It turned out to be a Nashville Warbler, which is late and therefore “rare” for this date. It wasn’t easy to see all that clearly but it is definitely a Nashville with that white eye-ring, gray cap and yellow body.

It occurred to me that, after all these years, this is exactly what I had in mind when I moved into my house and began by replacing the lawn with trees and native plants. I just wanted to attract birds. It seemed obvious to me at the time, but it was not initially very popular with City Hall or some of my neighbors. Perhaps awareness of the climate crisis and species extinction is tilting the scales more in my favor lately. I may even be participating in another garden walk next year. I hope so – it will motivate me to work in the yard more than I have been lately!

So was anything happening at the Chicago Portage on Thursday morning besides leaves?

There were a few – very few – birds. I am always excited to see an American Crow, of course.

And there were a few well-camouflaged American Goldfinches.

But in general, flora and colorful leaves provided the most interest. There was a small stand of some late-blooming Evening Primrose out in the middle of the marsh.

It would probably be enough to stop here, but I am going to move on to the next morning’s visit to Riverside, which produced more birds, and by the time I reached the health club to go swimming, a message on my phone saying my new router had arrived.

It is always good to see a familiar face in Riverside. This Great Blue Heron was present again just off the Hofmann dismantled-dam location.

Here’s a view of the Des Plaines River from the Joliet Avenue bridge, looking north.

As I stood on the bridge, I heard and then saw two Belted Kingfishers rise up and fly over. I was able to capture one of them.

The bird species of the morning, though, was definitely Golden-Crowned Kinglet – they were everywhere, in numbers.

By the time I reached the spot where I was about to cross the footbridge, just past the police and fire station, there were Golden-crowned Kinglets hugging the trees lining the path.

Walking along the river, it was hard to ignore Mallard males gleaming in the sunshine.

A couple more photos of the river and trees, which were hard to resist.

At Riverside Lawn, there weren’t a lot of birds, but enough to make a morning. I saw a distant but brightly-lit Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Dark-eyed Juncos were easier to see when they were preoccupied on the ground.

White-throated Sparrows were here and there.

And it’s always special to see a Fox Sparrow.

When I got back to where I park my car by the Hofmann Tower, I was happy to see a Great Egret in the river. As you can see, the water level is low.

Here are a couple more images from Friday morning.

It’s a season of change, from day to day. I will be back soon with more scenes from what has been an exceptionally beautiful autumn of birds and their surroundings.


I woke up yesterday morning to no internet connection. After spending an hour or so on the phone with my service provider it was determined that I need a new gateway router. It was shipped this morning so with luck I will receive it soon.

I birded Riverside Lawn yesterday and this morning I was at the Chicago Portage. There were plenty of birds yesterday, but today at the Portage was exceptionally quiet. The entire focus switched to leaves. I met two fall enthusiasts on their way out and we admired leaf colors.

I will see if I can manage to finish what was to be my next post with my cellphone and if so, it will follow shortly. Alternatively I can do more work in the yard and maybe read a good book.

The Zebra Finch that was just singing perched on my head left when I tried to record a video of him so that’s out. Either way I hope to be back soon.

End of September at the Chicago Portage – Part 2

I could have simply just done a blog post and called it Black-throated Green Warblers from the photographs I took on this day. Believe it or not this is only half of the ones I kept. But this is the best half. All photos were taken on September 29.

Yellow-rumped Warblers have been foraging in the duckweed for weeks.

I had a Blackpoll Warbler that day, and you can almost even see the field mark for which it’s named in the first photo below.

A Chipmunk was waiting for something on the first bridge.

Invariably American Robins in various molts were foraging on the front lawn, or going somewhere.

I had a glimpse of a Downy Woodpecker.

Another woodpecker, a Northern Flicker, was busy too,

And there was a third woodpecker, a Hairy Woodpecker, whose profile distinguishes it immediately.

I had one of my last juvenile Indigo Buntings – you can see a bit of blue at the tip of its tail.

Hermit Thrushes have been at the Portage all of this month. This one may have been the first I saw there this fall.

Two more Yellow-rumped Warblers – one in Boneset and the other in Goldenrod.