Last August – Over and Out

Here is my last little offering of photographs from last August. They afford a stark contrast to the present cold January days. We are in the single digits today with a steady creep into the teens. The sun is shining brightly and it’s not too windy, but looks are quite deceiving. It was windy overnight and I woke up in the middle of it, aware that the furnace was running continuously. I turned the indoor temperature down a degree. I am prepared to go out in my long underwear, and I can wear it indoors if need be. My indoor birds will be warm enough. They are delighting in the sunshine anyway.

Below are two less-conventional Cedar Waxwing photos. The second photograph is a juvenile bird.

Here are two adult male Baltimore Orioles and a couple shots of an immature female.

It was nearly always possible to find a goldfinch in the duckweed.

Red-winged Blackbirds were not all that easy to see all summer but they were definitely present. The birds below appear to be juveniles.

Below, a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

And here is a Warbling Vireo. They are frequently heard, but rarely seen at the Portage.

A distant view of a Great Egret on the Des Plaines River.

I haven’t seen one Chipmunk all winter, so I’m glad I caught this one in a rare pose.

I can’t resist juvenile American Robins.

It’s hard to resist a summertime male American Goldfinch too.

I never paid attention to the sticker on the back of the sign below where the Indigo Bunting is sitting with his back toward me – “Tadziu” – but apparently on the Internet there are enough definitions, from the slang “chode equipped moron” to a given name meaning “represents idealism, intuition, romance, generosity, creativity, wisdom and tolerance.” Thanks to the bunting for adding to my vocabulary.

I will be back shortly with the realities of winter. I did manage a walk yesterday morning in Riverside before I went swimming, but it was brief, with more ice than birds. There was a partial thaw the day before, which hardened into slick ice as the temperature fell again. I’m going to settle for grocery shopping today and maybe I can walk tomorrow. There’s always plenty to do at home. I can only put off the chores (I promised myself I would accomplish once I retired) for so long…

Looking Back to Late August – Part II

There will likely be one more post from earlier in August, as I have discovered a few more interesting photographs. This exercise is somewhat inspired by creating temporary room on my hard drive for my most recent daily recordings with the indoor birds. Everything takes up so much space, it’s all a shell game.

I really like the photograph below, even though it’s not in perfect focus. Sort of tropical looking compared to the way things look lately…

A bee on a Yellow Coneflower…

I think Baltimore Orioles were already becoming scarce after breeding season.

I was surprised to find a very raggedy looking juvenile Blue Grosbeak in my photos. I am not sure I knew what it was while I took the pictures.

By the same token, I think the photographs below are of a juvenile Purple Finch and not the House Finch I reported to ebird. But since individual distinctions are so difficult to make, I don’t feel like updating my entry.

White Snakeroot and a Goldenrod Soldier Beetle below. I am glad I identified some of these species when I first reviewed them because I have forgotten most of them and look forward to relearning them this summer. The contrast between seasons is almost like what it takes to get acclimated to another ecosystem: I have to refresh my memory every year. That goes for a lot of bird calls I haven’t heard in a while too. But I am really looking forward to renewed confusion!

A Wild Indigo Duskywing and a Silvery Checkerspot below, which I will likely have to relearn to identify again. The butterfly at the top of the post is a Silver-spotted Skipper – which I have marked as “immature” thanks to some helpful lepidopterist on the Internet.

So, the Portage stream, as it was, all green and overgrown… and Canada Geese adorning another part of it.

Summer’s Des Plaines River
Cedar Waxwings…no surprise…
Blue Dancer Damselfly of 2021 – the most common last year

It turns out I’m not completely done with last August, but first I must return with a long-anticipated trip to the lakefront Sunday, which will feature lots of ice. A reality check, so to speak.

Looking Back to Late August – Part I

It’s another cold, cloudy day with snow in the forecast. The birds have not been flocking to the feeders this morning so much as I expect they are anticipating weather. The thaw was brief and if the ice at the bottom of my back porch stairs is any indication, it’s likely still quite icy at the Portage, so I sat through today’s half-planned walk, sifted through some late summer photographs and will go swimming later.

Late August at the Portage was full of immature birds and a few early fall migrants. These photos are from August 28. Below are two American Redstarts. The paler one could very well be a first-year male, or a female. I tend to forget that some American Redstarts breed in Illinois, they don’t all go farther north, because I have only seen them in migration. But then it’s logical to see them before the other warblers start making their way south. In any event I look forward to seeing them again in the spring.

Juvenile American Robins like the one at the top of the post come in spotty plumage,

American Robin and a Chimney Swift

August is the time of year for spider webs like the one below.

The deer were a lot younger…

and the Portage was lush and green everywhere…

The Yellow Coneflowers were in full bloom, and the Blue Dancer Damselfly was not in a very photogenic location.

I must have gone to the backyard after I got home to see if I could capture any of the birds there. So I managed a shy female Northern Cardinal, a Mourning Dove and what appears to be a Hairy Woodpecker.

But most frustrating of all was trying to capture a Ruby-throated Hummingbird visiting a feeder from too far away. I look forward to more opportunities this year. It might be a little easier to see them now that I’ve had the trees trimmed, but it also might be a little more difficult to hang the feeders!

I will have to decide in the spring how much of this Tall Ironweed I can handle before it takes over the entire backyard.

I have one more post of photos from late August and then there’s still a lot of fall warbler pictures that I took in September – when I had just begun testing the retirement waters with my toe. The days are getting longer…

Footprints in the Snow

It’s simply too cold to venture outside for a walk today. I had hoped I would be up for a walk anyway – the sun is shining brightly – but with a wind chill of 14 below and a predicted high of no more than 14 above, I think I will simply wait for it to get warmer over the weekend.

I was last at the Chicago Portage on January 4. Even though I was the only human there, it immediately became obvious that several others had preceded me the days before.

I always take a photograph of the statue first just to commemorate the light. And in this case, a little snow on it.

It was a fairly sunny day and not windy, so I could stand and wait for birds to pop up. But there really weren’t many. I struggled to get a halfway clear picture of one very cold-looking White-throated Sparrow.

When I did finally see some Northern Cardinals, they were too far away.

Here are a few snowy scenes. Just enough for a contrast to the shades of brown.

The sky was often undecided about sunshine or clouds.

A view of the Des Plaines River

But there were deer. Several of them.

And more footprints caught my attention.

I barely heard the woodpeckers and did not see them at all. My greeter Black-capped Chickadee was excited to see me but he wouldn’t stay still very long.

I barely captured a Dark-eyed Junco.

Before the snow and cold, Canada Geese were everywhere. On this day, I noted only four flying over.

On the way out, I heard a White-breasted Nuthatch but when I tried to find it, instead I saw a Brown Creeper. Since they don’t sound anything alike, there’s no way I could have mistaken the elusive nuthatch for a creeper or vice versa. But this is a phenomenon I have noticed on several occasions this winter, so they must be foraging in the same trees. Anyway, below are some photos of the creeper.

I have a treasure trove of some slightly older and significantly older photographs to go through and they will come in handy during this cold spell when I just can’t find the courage to brave the elements. The weather hasn’t stopped me from going out at night to swim, it has only made the outing that more surreal. But I am grateful for the opportunity to get some exercise.

Winter Comes to the Backyard

We had to cross the 2021 finish line to get our first significant snow which turned out, thankfully, to be less than predicted. But the storm continued to rage eastward and wreaked havoc elsewhere. Suffice it to say we are cold and there is snow on the ground. And my feeders in the backyard have become very popular.

It’s been a couple weeks since I took the pictures below of the Cooper’s Hawk – through the kitchen window, on the fence – but less than a week later I found a pile of Mourning Dove feathers in the yard – before the snow covered it up.

All these photos are with the little mirrorless camera. I am trying to use it more and it’s handy for the backyard. Most of the pictures were also taken through windows with screens which isn’t ideal but it’s been hard to stand outside and wait for the birds to come back in the yard lately.

The American Goldfinches have been back in numbers. I counted 36 of them this morning. I wasn’t sure how they were going to adjust to the new feeders but they seem to be perfectly happy with them and I find them much easier to deal with than their beloved socks which got dirty and full of holes too many times.

Some of these pictures were from a previous snow on December 28. That snow was wet and sticking although it melted away a day later. It was worth capturing when it was clinging to the trees and remnants of plants in the front yard.

Then on the 29th…when the snow was gone…

A very tiny Fox Squirrel appeared in the yard

I did manage to get outside for a few photographs on January 2nd. A male Downy Woodpecker was the easiest to capture.

.A few goldfinches managed to tolerate my presence.

I don’t see very many House Finches lately, so it was nice to see this one.

A very small representation of the House Sparrows that visit.

I haven’t seen more than one Dark-eyed Junco at a time so I have no idea if there are more in the yard.

Today we have blowing snow and wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour with a wind chill presently of 1 degree above zero. The forecast is for even colder weather the next two days. I did manage to go to the Portage yesterday and will be back with that short visit a bit later.

Sadly our choir rehearsals have been put on hold. We are to have a Zoom meeting next Wednesday. I am not surprised by any of this, but it is difficult to continually digest all the uncertainty. I am grateful for the fall in-person rehearsals and our concerts that occurred just in time before Omicron became our destiny.

I wish you safety and warmth and some joy in the little things.

A Look Back at More Riverside Wildlife

On November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, I got photographs of a buck on the Riverside Lawn side of the Des Plaines River. He was close to the path. This might have been the last time I saw any deer, they seem to have gone elsewhere since.

On that same visit, I saw part of a creature asleep in a tree cavity, but I have no idea what it was. I have since tried to find the tree again but haven’t managed to. Brightening up the photo on the left didn’t help much.

Other than that and a very grey-looking day, the birds were the usual variety. I could expect to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

A Downy Woodpecker and a Northern Cardinal managed to make it into the same photograph before I moved to get an unobstructed view of the Cardinal.

It seems I barely captured the Black-capped Chickadee below.

The sky had its dramatic moments.

A distant Red-tailed Hawk below…

Invariably there have been Mallards in the river somewhere. And Canada Geese.

The spareness of the trees imparts a different architecture…

I have been busy baking the annual Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin loaves for distribution. They have all found homes.

A few of my birds in relaxed moments…

I keep trying to imagine a visit to the lakefront. I haven’t been down to see it for two years, now. I keep telling myself once I go down it will all seem familiar again and I will feel safe. Might be a destination for New Year’s Day. We shall see.

For what it’s worth, I probably spent an hour this morning in between the stages of making yogurt, reading Dave Barry’s 2021 Year in Review (which appeared in The Washington Post and apparently several other publications) and I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. It could be just me not having a TV and its comedy shows. But I’d like to think this is my reward for surviving 2021. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already. A little humor goes a long way these days.

The Morning After

After living in the company of the glorious music we performed in the Return of the Unity Temple Choir Concerts on December 18 and 19, surviving my participation in the concerts and revisiting particularly resonant passages in my head – I went out to the Portage this beautiful sunshiny morning to reclaim my walk routine. At least that was what first struck me as I started up the trail: the past two weeks it seems between spates of inclement weather and the need to practice my choral parts, my sense of routine was minimal at best. Beyond feeding the birds, playing a little piano and swimming, there was only room for choir.

But now we have a couple weeks off before we resume rehearsals. It has been such a profound transition from rehearsing remotely to video performances to learning all the music and singing together, vaccinated and masked, as a choir in live performance again, I found myself exhausted after the first performance and feeling let down a bit after the second, as if I never wanted it to end.

I suppose if I were still working and had less time to preoccupy myself with the clinical details of my moods, this would all be chalked up to just part of the end-of-year-holiday madness, but whatever it is, experiences seem more vivid and significant as I search for meaning in the morass.

But enough of that heavy stuff! It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp morning at the Portage. And I barely saw any birds. A footnote to that – I could not participate in the Christmas Bird Count this year because of the choir concert which fell on the same day, December 18. But the few birds I did see this morning were delightful in their own way, and here they are.

Early on, I heard what I thought was an American Tree Sparrow where I have in the past run into flocks of foraging birds, but did not see it. I proceeded up the path, pausing now and then to listen to a distant call or silence, the wind making me glad I had on my long underwear. Then I heard a Black-capped Chickadee call to me, before it appeared. I have come to consider the Chickadees my Greeter Birds at the Portage. Invariably they have always solicited my attention.

That was just before the opening in the fence. I didn’t feel like walking back along the river toward the railroad tracks or going in the other direction toward the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) but I stood for a moment after going through the break in the fence and managed to capture a couple distant shots of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I briefly saw a male Northern Cardinal but did not photograph it. When I got to the second bridge I could see some Mallards in the water that was shallow enough to melt. I started walking the trail on the opposite side of the water.

Here’s what the Portage looked like this morning. It was nice to see a bit more water, albeit mostly frozen at first.