Leading Myself

I had been envisioning all week what it would be like, yesterday, to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m. and go through my normal routine of waking up my body, preparing and serving breakfast to my indoor flock, filling the feeders and changing water in the bird baths for the outdoor flock, and then getting ready to leave in time to arrive at Columbus Park and lead a walk that was to start at 7:00 a.m. I don’t organize the walks. I have been asked to “lead” this and other Saturday walks that alternatively go to Thatcher Woods in River Forest through the first Saturday in November. Leading basically means showing up, in case the organizer can’t make it. That will be the end of the “fall migration walks” and the same schedule will restart in April for spring migration.

I made several discoveries yesterday. Perhaps most important was the conclusion that I managed to arrive on time after the organizer had already advised me he couldn’t make it, I had a few moments to spare, which means I might be able to sleep maybe 20 more minutes before Saturday morning’s visit to Thatcher Woods.

So I arrived on time. And started talking to one of the golfers who use the same parking lot for access to the adjacent golf course. And I waited. I watched for cars with people getting out of them bearing binoculars. But all the cars arriving produced golf clubs. I soon came to the conclusion that I was the only person showing up for the walk. Below is a picture of what the sky looked like at that time. Maybe with the combination of clouds and no organizer, I was not enough of a draw.

Those little black dots in the clouds are Chimney Swifts.

I figured I may as well check out the park for birds anyway, all dressed up with my gear as I was, so I started walking across the lawn to the water where there were only a few Mallards. It was still quite cloudy and beyond my desire to compensate for the lack of light.

I confess I was a little leery of walking through the park so early alone. Although it has always been a safe place with others, I was not familiar enough with the spot to feel entirely confident. But then it started to lighten up, and I was hearing birds, and I figured well, I could see what was there. And I’m glad I did, because instead of following a group around – some “leader” I am – I now feel like I actually could lead a walk through Columbus Park.

Below is a video I took with my phone of Chimney Swifts flying over – it starts out mainly hearing them but then when I realized I could zoom in a bit you can actually see them. There’s also a Red-winged Blackbird singing in the beginning, for good measure.

Chimney Swifts

It began to brighten up a little, which helped the photo taking situation. It was difficult capturing the Blackpoll Warbler below in the shady portion of the park, however, but I kept trying.

I agonized over the pictures below as I was sure it was a Bay-breasted Warbler but for some reason ebird insisted it was a rare sighting for this date. I submitted my photographs and so far they have not challenged me.

I wasn’t seeing a lot of birds in the water, so I looked forward to going to the native plant garden next to a portion of it where I would likely see more birds, and I did.

Palm Warblers like the one below were expected.

I haven’t seen a lot of Tennessee Warblers this year – so it was nice to find this one.

And below, a very young-looking American Goldfinch.

On the way out I managed to capture a sneaky picture of a Wood Duck drake through some tangled branches. Also saw the resident Great Blue Heron in a well-camouflaged spot.

One more of the Tennessee Warbler

At 8:30 a.m. I felt as if I had covered the area – even though I missed a raptor I barely saw flying over. I encountered a birder who was waiting on someone to start her walk through, and we exchanged notes. Columbus Park is her go-to spot, like the Portage is mine. She may join us at Thatcher next week. I am no longer dreading these early Saturday morning rises.

I was tired, especially after having gone swimming the night before, so I took a long nap when I got home. But I am glad I managed the early start and stayed for the birds. I’m sure I would have seen more birds if I had company, but I encountered some nice, smiling runners and walkers and felt more connected to Columbus Park, which is really a beautiful place.

Sounds of Spring

On that warm weekend nearly three weeks ago – I write this as we chill again after a bit of April Snow yesterday morning and into freezing overnight – I went to McGinnis Slough for a few birds and was greeted by a lot of singing in the sunshine. Thankfully, there was not a lot of traffic noise from LaGrange Road. The primary contributors to the recording are Red-Winged Blackbird males.

Birdsong at McGinnis Slough

This time I got to see one of the Sandhill Cranes that I missed the weekend before. I have to wonder if they are nesting there…

No shortage of Red-Winged Blackbirds showing off.

And not showing off…

A male Wood Duck managed to swim by my lens.

Northern Cardinals didn’t offer many looks, but I managed to add these two for the record.

The iridescence of this Common Grackle’s neck caught my eye first.

This was the best I could do for a Song Sparrow, even though I heard a few singing. The song of one is below the picture.

Song Sparrow

This view overlooking a part of the slough perhaps conveys the feeling evoked by the toad chorus below it.

American Toads, I think

Never at a loss for American Coots this time of year. But I was most impressed with the one standing on a log poking out of the water, preening and showing off its pretty green legs.

Mallards… one hen very comfortable in her chosen spot.

It wouldn’t be an authentic visit to the Slough without a Great Blue Heron flying somewhere.

I was excited to see an Osprey, however briefly.

One male Blue-Winged Teal was close enough to capture.

Perhaps my most thrilling bird sighting that day was this lone Tree Swallow. It was actually warm enough for it to catch bugs in the air.

I always have hope to be back to this page sooner than later. Here’s to more sunshine, warmer weather and more reasons to treasure longer days while they last.

Promises, Promises

I was determined to go out this morning after being tricked by the forecast yesterday which predicted rain that did not happen. If I had not awakened with a sore knee, I might have been tempted to go out yesterday, but I spent much of the day without too much exertion, focusing instead on my three-and-a-half hour cleaning chore last night that was made possible with ibuprofen. This morning I woke up to clouds and wind. Clouds i could deal with, but consistent wind gusts made it prohibitive to go out for a walk, because birds aren’t crazy about windy days. I watched the birds in the yard come and go in between gusts.

These pictures are from last Saturday’s visit to McGinnis Slough. Not a lot going on yet, but at least there was some sunshine. I went to the Portage on Sunday and have decided to make that a separate post.

McGinnis Slough

There are plenty of Red-Winged Blackbirds setting up territories. I also saw one or two females but they were not available for photos. Yet.

In addition to the predictable Mallards there were some other ducks but they were too distant to photograph. Likely if I had my scope I might have seen more species.

Gadwall and Bufflehead

No Great Egrets yet but there were at least one or two Great Blue Herons.

American Coots are always a presence here. They aren’t numbering in the hundreds yet but they will.

It was particularly rewarding to see a juvenile Bald Eagle fly over. The plumage is at about two and a half years old.

Below, a late, extremely backlit American Tree Sparrow.

Quick flyover Osprey…

Always love to see the American White Pelicans, even if they are distant.

A last glimpse at well-preserved seed heads.

Last year’s oriole nests are easy to spot now.

Just one more Coot – closely cropped and brightened up a bit to show of its red eye.

I’ll be back soon with my Portage visit and with any luck I will be going out next weekend, which promises to be warm, sunny and dry – so far!

Looking Back to Spring Forward

I started writing this post to coincide with setting the clocks forward, and now it’s taken me over another week to get back to it. But when considering all the photographs were taken a year and a month ago – on April 19th, 2020, to be exact – and I never got a chance to finish processing them until now, it’s taken even longer! I hope it’s kind of a sneak preview of what to expect in the coming days and weeks as spring unfolds at the Portage.

One of my first encounters was a pair of Downy Woodpeckers exhibiting their exuberant version of courtship behavior. At first I thought they were arguing! I have never witnessed this before so I’m glad I was able to capture it. If you click on the right panel and keep going you can see the sequence.

It appears I had way too many photographs from this excursion which might explain why I never managed to post them. Still it’s nice to revisit them, like the female Northern Cardinal below.

Below, often the first warbler to visit, a Myrtle Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Surprised to find this photograph in the mix – likely my first sighting of an Eastern Bluebird last year.

An Eastern Phoebe, dreaming of flying insects, perhaps.

Another Downy Woodpecker.

Song Sparrows…

Red-winged Blackbirds…

I don’t think there’s enough water on site anymore to attract herons, but there is plenty nearby so I should still see them flying over on occasion.

A Northern Flicker showing just a little of its golden shafts.

There were two Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers on this tree and one flew away.

A Black-capped Chickadee showing off.

A singular turtle…

An assortment of early fungus, moss and flora.

A singing American Robin

Here’s a Golden-Crowned Kinglet – unfortunately the lighting didn’t do its colors justice.

This Brown-headed Cowbird was foraging on the ground.

Canada Geese and the clouds…

Robins often seem like they want to engage in a conversation.

A Wood Duck drake in a tree. I remember trying to get this shot after I saw him land, with a lot of branches between us.

Mallards…

Blue-winged Teal…

So the Portage will still be slowly coming to life, but we’re warming up, the days are getting longer and migration has begun. Springing forward with hope.