Fall Walks at Columbus Park

I am late getting around to a roundup of the three visits the Oak Park Bird Walkers managed at Columbus Park. The fourth was rained out and never rescheduled. In spite of all that, I am only including photos from the first two visits because there are too many to include from all three: I will follow up with the third visit later.

Larger birds dominated the visit on September 2. At first we had a young Black-crowned Night-Heron perched in a tree.

And then a bit later, a Cooper’s Hawk.

The first bird we were barely able to identify turned out to be an Eastern Phoebe when I checked my photos later.

Not seeing a lot of birds, we did have some insect activity in the wildflower garden.

I happened to stop by the Chicago Portage afterward and saw an Osprey…

Two weeks later on the 16th, back at Columbus Park, it was a different story. There were a lot more birds. And a lot more photographs. We were seeing some warblers.

Bay-breasted Warbler

By far the most prevalent warbler was Blackpoll Warbler. The photos below are of a few different individuals.

Beyond warblers, there were other migrants.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

And not so migratory, but interesting anyway, a Blue Jay and a Northern Flicker posed nicely for me.

The star of the morning for me was a Philadelphia Vireo, also at the top of this post. We don’t see them quite so often. For comparison, the third photo below is of a Warbling Vireo.

Still early in thrush migration, we were seeing Swainson’s Thrushes.

We actually started off the morning with a young Red-tailed Hawk, but I saved it for later.

At some point, we spotted the Great Blue Heron that frequents this body of water.

It’s been busy lately. Halloween has come and gone, and I was gratified to find most of the snacks-and-candy offering gone as well. Choir performances are piling up as our voices grow stronger with them. Birding has offered a few surprises which seem that much more dramatic just when you feel like so many birds have gone, only to realize there are still some fascinating individuals among us. It’s a reminder that it’s always about the bird in front of me. Whenever I get that unanswerable question – “what’s your favorite bird?” – the only answer can be “the one I’m looking at right now.”

Recently in Riverside

Two walks in Riverside, 10/18 and 10/23. One morning sunny, the other less so. Fall leaves and the sparrows that fade into them start to dominate.

There wasn’t a big change in the trees until after the 23rd, which is the second photo, but for the record, here they were changing.

For a couple days, I was seeing more White-crowned Sparrows. Views directly below are of an adult, and below that, a first-winter bird.

I try not to take White-throated Sparrows for granted. I feel a kinship with them.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were becoming less frequent.

A young Red-tailed Hawk was considering its options, perched in a tree close to the water.

I dare to think the two birds below might be Rusty Blackbirds. There’s a hint of a light-colored eye in the bird on the left.

Sometimes it’s easier to see White-breasted Nuthatches these days.

A Great Blue heron was fluffing out all its feathers.

On 10/23, I was treated to a good look of a Fox Sparrow.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets have been here and there.

The rocks in the river by the shore were still somewhat of a draw for this American Robin.

Dark-eyed Juncos were beginning to appear more frequently.

Here are a few more photos of White-throated Sparrows. The ones with the white median crown stripe, like the bird at the top of the post, are less frequently seen.

I don’t always get a chance to see or photograph a Northern Cardinal, however ubiquitous they seem.

I may have seen two Great Blue Herons on the 18th, but for the most part I have seen just one and one Great Egret since. I will check tomorrow to see if one or the other is still around, but I have a feeling the cold front we are now experiencing may have sent both birds packing.

I spent the last two days draining 50 gallons of water out of my rain barrels. That’s how many gallon bottles I had available to fill. There’s still a lot of water in both barrels so I have set them on slow drip, but I will have to empty them out tomorrow night as we dip into sustained freezing temperatures. As for the water I saved, I will use it to fill the heated birdbaths all winter.

I also harvested the rest of the peppers this morning. There are a lot more jalapeños this year. In lieu of a cold, gloomy, rain-threatened walk this morning, I also made a pot of Ecuadorian Quinoa Vegetable Soup. I feel fortified for the cold days ahead.

Fall Colors

As promised, here are photos from Thursday morning at the Chicago Portage. I am also including photos from October 13th which was a very cloudy day: I just discovered that I must not have reviewed these photos previously as they remained unprocessed until now.

Thursday there was a bit more light, but the number of birds present was nominal. There were Yellow-rumped Warblers, but not too many of them.

There were a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

House Finches seem to be popping up here and there. They are not migrants but I don’t always see them.

I found a couple Orange-crowned Warblers. One very backlit and the other, blending in with the leaves.

Here are a few more Yellow-rumped Warbler photos.

Sparrow migration is here. I spotted a distant first-winter White-crowned Sparrow.

And a couple White-throated Sparrows.

Swamp Sparrows were everywhere.

Back to October 13, when the cloud cover subdued every view.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Song Sparrow

I haven’t seen many Brown Creepers this fall, but was somehow able to capture this one in low light, scaling the bark of a hackberry tree.

The silhouette of a Mourning Dove…

A tree full of Red-winged Blackbirds stark against the grey sky…

Then later, I got some closer views.

I was hoping I had a Winter Wren but upon closer examination this appears to be a House Wren instead. I am pretty sure I have seen a Winter Wren or two but I have been unable to photograph one yet this fall.

White-throated Sparrow

A couple more Yellow-rumped Warblers. There were more of them on the 13th.

Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day, but I spent the morning inside Unity Temple singing in the choir. The bees were in the backyard in the afternoon, enjoying the asters that I trimmed back in June. The trimming back did not keep the asters from expanding over the walk but it kept them shorter which is a plus.

We are warming up for a few days, and then it looks like we will settle into cooler temperatures. We may be done with fall warbler migration, but I haven’t run out of photos yet. I’ll be returning with more.

Tennessee Warblers Plus

Tuesday morning at the Chicago Portage was so full of Tennessee Warblers, I simply have to celebrate them and the other birds we saw. Fall warbler migration is waning, sparrow species are moving in, and the leaves are turning and falling from the trees. Fall is on full-blast.

Somehow I’m not seeing so many Yellow-rumped Warblers lately.

Every once in a while an American Robin catches my eye and sits long enough for a photo.

White-crowned Sparrows have been here and there.

A while later I managed to get a distant photograph or two of a first-winter White-crowned Sparrow.

There were a couple Mourning Doves. No surprise, but they were enjoying the cloudless sky.

After that, I walked back a bit to meet Bob at the bridge near Harlem. When we walked the trail not too far past the bridge, we encountered a feeding frenzy of several Tennessee Warblers. The abundant sunshine lit up their green backs in the leaves.

So what were they eating? I think they were picking at the galls that cover the undersides of the hackberry leaves. I have found this to be an important and favorite food source for fall migrating warblers. It certainly makes me appreciate hackberry trees!

Not to be confused with the Tennessee Warblers were some young American Goldfinches like the one below, acquiring its adult plumage. The third photo is an adult.

Black-capped Chickadees were busy as usual.

This proved to be a good morning for Golden-crowned Kinglets.

We also had a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Another late-fall warbler showing up is the Orange-crowned Warbler. Often mistaken for a Tennessee, it is yellower toward the tail underneath.

We observed an interesting-looking Red-winged Blackbird from the bridge near Harlem and decided its darker plumage designated it a young male bird.

After my Merlin app kept telling me for weeks that it heard Swamp Sparrows, we are finally starting to see them. They look more generally rufous in color and are grayer in the face than White-throated Sparrows.

The yellow lores and darker-brown plumage of White-throated Sparrows can be seen below, for comparison.

Here are a few more photos of another Tennessee Warbler.

There were more Swamp Sparrows and Orange-crowned Warblers this morning. I will try to be back soon with a quick update. Until then, here’s one more of the Golden-crowned Kinglet with its mouth open.

I’m adding a Cedar Waxwing for good measure.

Sparrows and More at the Portage

The prospect of rain cleared away Sunday morning and the sun was shining. In contrast, this morning was cloudy and drizzly. It seems fitting to do a short post about my Sunday visit to the Chicago Portage, seeing as how there’s always more from before.

I caught up with Bob S. and we walked the trail looking for activity. Yellow-rumped Warblers were reliably located by the Harlem Avenue bridge.

It was a while before more birds appeared.

We caught up with a lot of birds feasting in the marshy area. There were several Nashville Warblers.

There were also plenty of American Goldfinches.

I started trying to capture distant birds to identify later. Below is most of a Song Sparrow. I also found a Lincoln’s Sparrow in my photos but the lighting and distance made it unsuitable for any representation here.

I was quite surprised to find an American Tree Sparrow, my first of the season.

There was an unmistakable male Eastern Towhee perched across the water. He or someone like him eventually flew right in front of us, but I was unable to get a clear photo as he disappeared behind leaves.

Another distant bird that we first thought was a wren because of its tail sticking up turned out to be a Swamp Sparrow.

Also across the water close to the shore were a Song Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow.

There was a nearby Downy Woodpecker.

The third barely identifiable warbler was a Tennessee Warbler.

I have been seeing both kinglet species – Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned – off and on over the past week or two. There weren’t very many available Sunday, but this Ruby-crowned was easy to see.

An Eastern Wood-Pewee sat still for a long time and I am sure I took too many photos.

The last bird to reveal itself was in the shadows and at first difficult to photograph. It turned out to e a Gray-cheeked Thrush. For as many of this species as I have seen this fall, on Sunday its presence turned out to be rare for the lateness of the date,

Three more photos below, of the Gray-cheeked getting ready to fly and then taking off…

Tomorrow’s forecast includes a little sunshine, so I should be able to walk with the camera and see who shows up. It’s fall. Chilly, windy, brisk, leaves falling. We seem to have had all the right conditions for fall color. Leaves resembling birds and vice versa.

Saturday Mornings at Thatcher Woods

The fall migration bird walks I have been involved in with the Oak Park Area Migration Bird Walks group have nearly come to an end. Today was to be the final walk of the season at Columbus Park, but the rainy forecast was too soggy and drizzly. There is a chance we might do one last walk in Columbus Park next Saturday.

We completed three visits to Thatcher Woods which took place on September 9, September 23 and October 7. These photos are selected from all three visits, in somewhat chronological order.

September 9 was early in warbler migration and those birds were distant, but there was plenty of sunshine. Thrushes and flycatchers led the day.

Flycatchers were busy.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

There were also some colorful if distant views of a first-year male Rose-breasted Grosbeak…

and Eastern Bluebirds.

On September 23rd we saw more warblers, although they were not easy to photograph.

Thrushes were abundant again. We saw our first Hermit Thrush of the season.

Swainson’s Thrush

I was surprised to find the capture below. If you look carefully you will see a Veery and a Red-eyed Vireo above and to the right of it.

I managed to capture a Red-bellied Woodpecker in flight.

Northern Flickers were adding color to the bare trees.

And for good measure, a couple cooperative Mourning Doves.

The Great Blue Heron at the top of the post was posing for us early that day. Its location in the shade made it look extra-blue.

On October 7 we had sunny skies again. The first birds we encountered were Cedar Waxwings, with several juveniles in the mix.

We didn’t see a lot of warblers. I thought the Magnolia Warbler below looked interesting in the blooming Snakeroot.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere.

The star of the morning was a Merlin, hunting from the trees lining the open grassy area. We saw it go after something (I think it was a Northern Flicker) and later eat its prey. I took way too many photographs of this bird.

Also in the raptor cast was a Broad-winged Hawk.

We later saw several Northern Flickers on the lawn. I managed to capture a brrief eruption of golden shafts.

Here’s one more of the Merlin with its breakfast.

So that about wraps up some of the highlights of the Thatcher Woods visits. We will return to this location in the springtime.

When the Columbus Park fall bird walks are certified complete, I will compile a recap of those outings.

I am getting mentally ready to usher at Unity Temple this evening for Simone Dinnerstein’s performance as part of a biennial Schubert Festival. I have been reading about her and listening to her play and am looking forward to hearing her in person. Although she is not performing Bach in this recital, she will play some other composers’ works beyond the Schubert B-flat Major Sonata. I mention Bach because apparently her recording of the Goldberg Variations launched her fascinating career. There is nothing like the experience of learning and playing the Goldberg. I’d like to think it was the springboard for my exploration of making music with the birds.

Backyard Fallout

Last Thursday morning was cloudy, rainy, and much cooler than the weather we had been experiencing. The rain came in with a cold front on Wednesday night and a lot of migrating birds came with it. I had no plans to go birding anywhere. But the rain seemed to be letting up a bit. I was in the middle of my breakfast routine with the indoor crowd, standing over the kitchen sink when I looked out the window into the garden and thought I saw something unusual. I picked up the binoculars. It was a male Common Yellowthroat.

It looked like there might be other fall migrant visitors in the yard, so I went out with the camera when the rain was down to a drizzle.

I was hanging around the back of my lot when the Common Yellowthroats popped in and out of the Hawthorn tree. I only saw the male (above) briefly but the female (below) gave me some nice looks.

There were a couple Gray Catbirds enjoying the pokeberries. I am now glad I let them grow.

Also attracted to the pokeberries were thrushes.

Not a migrant, but a sometimes infrequent visitor, I was happy to get some nice views of a male House Finch.

I have had White-throated Sparrows in the yard for about two weeks, but I don’t always see them. It was nice to catch this one in the Scotch Pine.

I was quite surprised to find a Northern Waterthrush in the yard.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were not so hard to find. There were at least four individuals. The second photo below of the bird flying away was taken in the front yard by the sidewalk.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were posing in the Hawthorn which now has berries that look ripe to me but they must not be ready yet for consumption.

Another surprise in the Scotch Pine – an Ovenbird, albeit obscured.

And I did manage to catch one Palm Warbler on the fence.

House Sparrows are always present. This one was perhaps curious to see me out there with the camera.

It was cloudy but not raining, so I decided to visit McGinnis Slough, where a vagrant Limpkin was being reported. This is a southern wader, usually seen in Central and South America. There is a population in Florida. I have seen it where it belongs. But this bird does not migrate. So it’s likely a hurricane blew this bird away from its normal habitat.

McGinnis Sllough

The first birds I saw were European Starlings.

There were the usual suspects.

Blue Jay
Great Blue Heron

I was treated to some nice looks of a couple shorebirds. Below are Lesser Yellowlegs.

And there was one Solitary Sandpiper.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were here too.

And a few Palm Warblers.

A Red-winged Blackbird or two. Okay, it’s the same bird, but I’m having a hard time removing one of the images now for some unknown reason…

And a Tennessee Warbler.

Shortly before I left, a Northern Harrier flew over.

But I did not see the Limpkin anywhere. It’s a distinctive-looking, rather large bird and would be hard to miss. What I was missing, however, were the location comments that I had ignored from the rare bird listing.

Sunday morning was also cloudy. I went to the Chicago Portage, but then decided to find the bridge on Southwest Highway that offers another view of McGinnis Slough that I have never seen. Given the difficulty seeing anything on foot over the towering growth in the regular preserve location, this is a good place to check. Finding the access to the bridge and a place to park was almost more of an accomplishment than seeing the Limpkin. It was easily visible from the bridge. It was also a bit far away, but that’s what my 400mm lens is for.

Here are a slightly few closer views.

I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long: it’s been a busy week. But now we are heading into a forecast of rain for several days so maybe I can get caught up with my other ideas for posts about this fall migration season. For now, I am off to choire rehearsal.

Back to Riverside

Here’s a short post, I hope. I had other things in mind but after visiting Riverside yesterday morning it seemed only fair to do a little recap of my visit. We are in the midst of a hot spell that isn’t going to break until Thursday morning. The winds were blowing from the southeast yesterday (today they are stronger from the southwest). I was surprised to find a few warblers hanging out in Riverside Lawn.

But first, I started out by crossing the Joliet Avenue bridge, where I found a Double-crested Cormorant that had just caught and eaten a fish.

Des Plaines River with a hint of fall color

Walking along the paved path in Riverside, I encountered a Gray Catbird. Later, coincidentally, I heard what was likely a young Gray Catbird trying out a whole bunch of sounds (they are mimics) and confounding Merlin which totally ignored it, likely because the jumble was too unique for the algorithm to figure out.

When I wasn’t seeing or hearing too many other birds at one point, I decided to take a picture of some asters that have cropped up everywhere.

I did stop to look around the low, grassy area on the other side of the paved walk. Among a lot of American Goldfinches (not represented here), I found this rather disheveled Song Sparrow.

Eventually I started seeing Yellow-rumped Warblers here and there.

A White-breasted Nuthatch was hugging a tree. I think by this time I had crossed the footbridge and I was walking around Riverside Lawn, starting first to see birds on the road that extends from the footbridge.

I caught a brief look at an American Redstart.

I managed to capture one Blackpoll Warbler.

I’ve been seeing Nashville Warblers for a couple weeks.

At some point I saw a young male House Finch.

Best of all was encountering a Black-throated Green Warbler low in a tree right in front of me. I heard its chip note first and then slowly raised my lens. I was nearly too close to capture it with some leaves in the way. This looks like a first-year bird.

There was a distant Tennessee Warbler somewhere up high.

I did see a nice Gray-cheeked Thrush yesterday morning as well. It seems like most of the thrushes have moved on. We had a lot more last week.

Below is one Yellow-rumped Warbler that tried to fly out of the frame.

Food for thought – someone has been ripening tomatoes on this stone bench by the Hofmann Tower.

It’s hard to believe it’s October already, especially with these temperatures. It’s going to be a busy month for me, but I will be back soon with more migration madness. Well, maybe it’s more like migration murmurs.

In Riverside

It’s raining almost all day today and most of tomorrow, so I have no excuse not to finish this blog post I started a week ago.

These photos are from September 6 and September 8. I have returned to Riverside several times since. In my usual fashion, I hope to get around to that eventually.

There have been as many as 9 Great Egrets gathering just south (or is that west?) of the former Hofmann Dam. To illustrate this point I’ve borrowed a photograph from September 13, although I couldn’t get all 9 into the photo at once.

But back to the week before, when I saw only one Bay-breasted Warbler briefly on the 8th.

This Black-and-White Warbler was a little easier to photograph.