The paving over of the inside trail appears to be complete. Remnants of fencing and barriers remain but will likely disappear shortly. Each visit to the Chicago Portage remains slightly different as the plants and the wildlife continue in spite of everything,
We have noticed numbers posted on some of the trees by the paved trail and wonder what the significance is. Yesterday I asked Rick, a foreman of the volunteers, and he said he and his dad were speculating as well. He texted his contact with the environmental team for an answer. Maybe we will eventually find out. I ran into José later yesterday and he speculated that it had something to do with which trees had to be preserved as a few were removed in the pavement process. No. 15 is one of my favorite hackberries, for what it’s worth.
These photos are from my visit on July 24. I have been back a few times since but as quiet as things seem, I can’t fit all the visits into one post.
I have taken to walking straight out the grassy area to the paved trail, beyond the shelter, to check the water for herons first. On that day I saw this rabbit…
and what appeared to be an Eastern Wood-Pewee with its offspring. I always hear this bird but rarely see it. The adult is on the left.
The youngster was very cooperative with my camera.
I saw no herons that day. But as I walked there were other things to catch my attention, like two Ladybugs on a plant I have not identified.
A European Starling lost in mulberries.
A Downy Woodpecker investigating a dead tree.
Plants demanding attention. The White Vervain is starting to bloom. It looks oh-so-weedy but it is actually quite beneficial to wildlife. A large Common Elderberry is ripening its berries. What appear to be a couple willow trees are growing beside Tadziu’s bridge. And I cannot resist the Squirrel-Tailed Grass in full bloom.
I won’t begin to try to explain what these Vespids are up to.
Another young woodpecker, this one a Red-bellied Woodpecker.
A young Red-winged Blackbird perfecting the art of preening.
I have seen this behavior several times this summer. An American Robin sitting on the gravel trail. I don’t expect to see one sitting on the asphalt, however.
The turtles are in place.
One more of the Downy Woodpecker above.
I will be back shortly with some Green Heron photos from yesterday’s visit that proved interesting.
Advanced warning: There are no birds in these photographs. Also, as much as I tried to organize this, it jumps around anyway. Hang in there.
The West Cook Wild Ones 2023 Garden Tour took place the afternoon of Saturday, July 22. My garden was one of four in Berwyn. There were also five individual gardens in Riverside, and also two municipal gardens in Riverside. The next day we gardeners got to take a self-guided tour of the other gardens. In all, 350 tickets were sold. I was surprised that some people came from as far away as Indiana. I had two wonderful volunteer docents in two shifts, to greet people and tell them about the front yard – I handled the back.
Luckily we escaped the predicted rain – which graciously came later – and while it was warm, it wasn’t unbearably hot.
Back in 2013 I hired Art and Linda’s Wildflowers to plant a native semi-rain garden in the front yard. At the time there was more shade from one neighbor’s tree on the parkway, but that tree was removed a few years ago. Art was maintaining the garden until he died in 2017. After hiring his helpers once or twice to maintain it, I decided to handle the maintenance myself. The plants have made their preferences known.
My backyard is more complicated than the front, but the front has become wilder over the last few years. I was very busy removing invasive plants from the backyard last fall and in the spring. After all the anticipation and preparation for this event, I feel like I have my work cut out for me next year.
Below is a view of the front yard looking south. The Black-eyed Susans really took over this year. The area underneath the tree, which revealed itself to be an apple tree about five years ago, was sparsely planted until this year.
The tall plants on the other side of the front, mainly Common Milkweed and Canada Goldenrod, were not part of the original design. They came in by themselves and while I tolerate their presence because the pollinators adore them, they are also pretty bossy and I think I’m going to try to contain them going forward more than I was able to this year.
Below is a little video I took of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly in the garden a few days before the tour.
It seems like the drought we had earlier only inspired more growth than normal as soon as we got some rain. Below are some of the wild petunias that grow along the sidewalk.
Below is a plant that did not do well this year. Normally very abundant, this Prairie Cinquefoil had a hard time of it with the drought conditions.
A favorite of the hummingbirds, the Royal Catchfly, just started to open up right before the tour.
Below is Beak Grass, which I never saw in the yard until a few years ago. Now it seems to be intent on taking over. Since it is rare in the state, I will try to relocate some of that which I remove. But I’m not going to plant it in wild places other than my own backyard. I am trying to offer it to anybody who wants some since it seems I don’t have to worry about it coming back.
Along the side of the house near the front yard, cozying up to the gas meter, Sand Coreopsis seems to have planted itself when the Black-eyed Susans took over in front.
The rest of the walkway on the side of the house is relatively tame. I have left the sumac although it is not native, it is naturalized and relatively harmless. I removed a lot of hostas and planted Prairie Smoke and Rattlesnake Master in between the sumacs. The Prairie Smoke is okay, some of it was even blooming earlier, but the Rattlesnake Master didn’t make it. But I just planted a lot of it in a cleared area of the backyard. All I have to do is defend it from everything else that grows back there…
There is no great way to take a photograph of the backyard, as it is just too densely packed with trees and plants vying for sunlight in between them. When I moved into the house over 20 years ago, there was nothing but lawn all the way to the alley, except for a big Ohio Buckeye at the alley. It was a beautiful tree, but it died several years ago and I had most of it removed – cut off level with the fence. Just this past year when my fence fell into the alley and I had to have it repaired, I had the rest of the Ohio Buckeye removed, which left me with a lot of growing material in the form of wood chips.
It’s too hard to describe the placement of the trees in the photos below. I am just including them to give a sense of the density. Basically, I wanted birds in the yard, and I didn’t want a lawn, so I planted trees. Years later, it turns out, the birds were right. I have a sanctuary in the summer. It feels about 10 degrees cooler in temperature walking into the backyard from the front. This has been my biggest selling point with the two garden walks I have participated in. The other selling point, less visible, is that I have never had any flooding in my basement. I just followed the birds. And as always, they were right.
It’s hard to capture the Big Bluestem, a native grass that I planted in the backyard by the sidewalk a long time ago. But it has done exceedingly well and multiplied.
One favorite of the bees is Wild Senna which has grown very tall and expanded in area.
I haven’t seen a lot of Milkweed Beetles yet this year but that could change.
The day of the tour someone noticed this Bold Jumper spider on the Common Milkweed in the front yard. I have never seen one before.
Below is Joe Pye Weed, a real favorite of the bees.
Close to the Joe Pye Weed is the original Bur Sedge plant, which has since cropped up in a couple other spots in the front yard.
Back to the backyard, where at the back of the house I have some Tall Bellflower and Culver’s Root.
Several visitors were impressed with the currant bushes. I planted three originally and the birds planted a few more under my hawthorn and scotch pine. One day all the berries will magically disappear.
Asters are starting to bloom. The one on the left and below is a Wide Leaf Aster. I only know that because I still have the original marker that came with the plant. I can’t decide what the second one is, might be Heath Aster.
But I was excited to see this beautiful Blue Mud Wasp yesterday and decided to include it in this post.
The flowers from the Cupplant are proving popular with pollinators.
I don’t know what’s more confusing species-wise, goldenrod or asters. Goldenrod might be worst. anyway, whatever variation on Canada Goldenrod this is, it’s starting to bloom.
I had cleared and planted a portion of my back bed weeks ago. The new plants are doing well and I don’t have to water them anymore. Right before the garden tour, I emptied and spread out the rest of my last bag of mulch. to add protection and distinguish the plants. But I didn’t envision anyone walking back there until one elderly man did walk through, albeit carefully. So that evening I decided my strategy in the future would be to fashion a “Managed Area” sign. I put it out on Sunday morning.
The (very) Tall Ironweed is just starting to bloom. It has taken advantage of just about every free inch of soil in the yard. Last year I saw that hummingbirds were attracted to it, so that observation strengthened its case that much more.
What’s coming is the contrast of the Tall Ironweed with the Canada Goldenrod, my favorite August-into-September color combination in the yard.
I have planted several Red Milkweed plants over the past couple years and they are finally starting to thrive.
Below is a sunflower planted from the black oil sunflower seeds I feed to the birds. I used to get a lot of it growing, but the past few years it wasn’t coming up at all. I’m okay with leaving one or two that have nice big flowers as the goldfinches love them.
Planted for me, jalapeño and serrano chiles.
Below is a different variety from the Black-eyed Susan in the front yard. I have to see if I can find the original list that came with this plant which was a gift, so I can identify the variety correctly.
Also new in my “Managed Area” is a little Spikenard, a bush that will provide berries. It’s already trying to do something.
That’s not all, but I’m getting dizzy from all of this. Back to the front yard just for a moment, and then I promise to return with photos from the garden from time to time. Below is some of the Bergamot I put in last year that is doing well in the front yard. I planted some in the back just recently, so I am eager to see what happens.
This was a great year for Purple Coneflower and all the butterflies and bees are still enjoying it.
Thank you for bearing with me through a virtually exhausting garden tour. I was quite exhausted after the weekend but it was great fun to be a part of the tour and to see what other people are up to in the area. There will be much more to explore. I only hope that we reached and inspired more people to get rid of their useless lawns and plant natives for wildlife.
I started writing this post days ago, after I stopped by the Chicago Portage on Thursday morning. Judging from all the large trucks in the parking lot, I deduced that the work on the inside trail was finally being done. My first instinct was to leave, but there was a parking space, so my curiosity got the better of me and I started to walk. Halfway up the trail closest to Harlem Avenue, a huge truck drove past me going in the opposite direction. Undeterred, I made my way slowly toward the bridge.
As I walked the path into the Portage, I noticed that one of my favorite plants is blooming, the Prairie Coneflower below on the left. I have never seen the white flower next to it before. It’s identified as Hedge Bindweed.
Butterflies are present, if not numerous. The red milkweed is a favorite of Monarchs. I am not sure what the little yellow flowers are that have attracted the Red Admiral and the Cabbage Whites, but it looks like Turkish Rocket or Turkish Warty-cabbage, also known as bunias orientalis. Non-native and invasive.
I had a rare look at a Daddy Longlegs.
Woodpeckers are out and about now, after weeks of hiding. I followed this Northern Flicker with the lens.
And a Red-bellied Woodpecker that looks a bit new. This is also the individual at the top of the post.
Young European Starlings were busy exploring.
More starling activity.
So here’s a little sneak preview of the asphalt trail. It was evident on Thursday morning that part of it had already been completed, and it was good to know the work would be finished. I returned Monday and Tuesday of this week and will catch up with those photos later.
The burdock made an interesting perch for this young Red-winged Blackbird.
And below is another juvenile Red-winged Blackbird.
American Robins abound and every once in a while, one strikes a pose.
A Turkey Vulture flew over low enough for a good view.
I have seen a clump of the White Campion below growing at one point on the trail. It’s related to the Starry Campion that showed up for the first time in my front yard this year.
Below is a photo from my phone which does better closeups than the big lens.
I caught a glimpse of a young-looking Song Sparrow below.
And a juvenile Great-crested Flycatcher.
Most gratifying of all that day was seeing a couple Yellow Warblers. I knew they were still around but haven’t heard or seen any for a few weeks.
Encroaching thunderstorms this morning will likely delay my departure for the pool. I decided not to consider a walk in Riverside even though I miss going there, it’s been over a week. The garden tour on Saturday consumed all my energy all the way leading up to it, Sunday and afterward. I am still exhausted just thinking about it. But it has been nice to start getting some other things done too. And I have developed a taste for iced coffee to help with that.
There is currently a downpour. It’s very dark for ten o’clock in the morning. I will be back as soon as possible with a report on the garden tour. Thunder. I am thinking about all the things I forgot to bring in before this. Nothing critical. Just more stuff on the brain.
I thought I would post this earlier, but this week is so strange as I try to fit everything else around the main focus of getting the yard ready. Yet I could not resist the urge to visit the Chicago Portage Tuesday morning. I had a couple minor errands to run anyway. It was a beautiful morning, not too hot, the air quality was better, there was a breeze, and the sun was shining amid some beautiful clouds.
No progress had been made on the improvements since my last visit. The current state of flux has therefore settled into a new sort of normal. I walked up the middle grassy area beyond the shelter. I encountered a young White-breasted Nuthatch.
American Robins are everywhere.
Groups of young European Starlings gather loosely,
Below is the male Indigo Bunting whose territory is closer to the bridge by Harlem Avenue.
The bird below looks to be a juvenile Red-winged Blackbird.
As I walked the main path and stopped to view the marsh, I saw three yellow birds fly in to perch on a small tree. They were not immediately recognizable but I thought they were juvenile Baltimore Orioles. Upon reviewing my photos later, it turned out I was correct. I was mesmerized by their blue feet and legs. Who knew?
A little break for a Downy Woodpecker. They’ve been hard to see lately, so I enjoyed watching this one.
A Great Egret flew over.
After a while one of the three Baltimore Orioles left and a House Finch came in. Then the oriole on the right left with something in its beak.
Below is another Baltimore Oriole with some web material.
It was hard not ignore new flowers blooming. Tall Bellflower is on the left, and White Snakeroot on the right. The Tall Bellflower is a biennial. I have some too currently blooming in my backyard.
This cloud caught my eye.
In the mulberry trees, birds were finally getting around to eating the berries. The berries have been visible for weeks but I guess they just weren’t ready until now.
American Robin and European Starling below.
Over by Tadziu’s bridge, I saw some Blue Vervain starting to bloom.
Just up the gravel path, a Spicebush Swallowtail.
On a bare branch, two Red-winged Blackbirds.
Then at quite a distance from the bridge by Harlem, two young-looking Great-crested Flycatchers.
Earlier I took a peek at the Des Plaines River through the break in the fence. We’re drying out again.
Just a couple more days to get ready for the garden tour. For all practical purposes I am mostly ready, but there’s always something else to take care of. After this is all over, the plants will get to do what they want for a while, because all this yanking and digging and weeding is wreaking havoc on my right hand which makes it most uncomfortable to play piano. Mild numbness turns into tingling with needles. I feel like I’m playing with steel nails instead of fingers. But that hasn’t stopped me. The show must go on.
When I arrived at the Chicago Portage Tuesday morning a little after 8:00, the forest preserve workers were cutting the grass and taking up the spaces where I normally park, so I parked on the Other Side where I noticed Bob had already parked. Predictably I encountered him shortly afterward and we walked around the main trail together hearing more than seeing. I thank him for drawing my attention to this lovely barbed wire American Goldfinch.
But the first creature I encountered was a butterfly and not a bird.
I did see a male Indigo Bunting. This is not our friend Tadziu.
At one point I photographed a distant bird sitting up like maybe it was a juvenile Eastern Kingbird, but there is no white on the tail, and I determined later that it was likely a juvenile Red-winged Blackbird.
This is the time of year when juvenile birds get confusing. The bird below in the mulberries turned out to be a European Starling.
And we caught a brief but distant look at a juvenile Warbling Vireo.
A few more photographs of this other Indigo Bunting. Although I did not get a photograph of Tadziu, when Bob and I were standing on his bridge watching for birds and talking, Tadziu swooped in with considerable bravado, flying right past us singing his song in greeting. Bob surmised it was Tadziu’s way of saying, “Where have you guys been?”
I am drawing attention to this occurrence simply because Bob and I were both witnesses to it and therefore nobody can say I’m making it up. Tadziu knows us and knows we know him. And I think he knows the story I tell about him all the time too. Fabulous bird!
I did get some photos of a male Common Yellowthroat perched up high and singing in a tree by the bridge.
Bob had to leave, but I stayed a while longer, curious to see if anything was going on by the water. I spotted a Green Heron.
The Green Heron was busy doing some interesting preening.
Then on my way back out the widened inside trail, which has yet to be paved, I saw a doe and her two offspring.
Just look at the size of those ears!
And then I heard and saw one of two Great-crested Flycatchers. It’s been a while since I have seen one, although I have usually heard them here.
I caught a young House Wren in a quiet moment.
Here’s another Indigo Bunting who was in a tree above with his back toward me. The lighting wasn’t really worth it, but in all I think I have been encountering 7 or 8 males on every visit.
Of course American Robins are everywhere. The young one on the gravel path caught my eye, and at the end of my walk I spotted two sunbathing on the freshly cut grass.
One more of the Green Heron and two turtles. And the American Goldfinch.
I am devoting my mornings this week to work in the garden. I will never run out of things to do and decisions to make, but I feel as if I am fashioning a little order for the garden tour, however transient. I keep thinking of things to do ahead of time next year, like cutting back all the towering plants before they grow so tall. But the drought caught me off guard and I was so happy to get the rain I didn’t realize how happy the plants were going to be as well.
Maybe I can swing by with another post during the week.
I took the chance on Friday morning after the then-last rain that the trails wouldn’t be too muddy to walk in Riverside Lawn. I was in the throes of preparing for my participation in last Sunday’s service, and it was good to go for a walk and mull over my improvisation for the closing music in my head.
The river was looking much better than the last few weeks.
Off the paved trail I first saw a House Wren sitting quietly still.
A Northern Cardinal made a studied appearance.
I noticed a couple turtles making use of what looked like the last log above water.
A couple deer perhaps coming for a drink.
The Common Grackles were less noticeable now that there were no longer exposed rocks in which to forage.
I was on the footbridge almost across the river when I noticed something different flying directly above me. It turned out to be a Common Nighthawk and verified itself with an accompanying “peent”. I have one or two over my yard on summer evenings, but I did not expect to encounter this bird after nine o’clock in the morning.
After the surprise of the nighthawk, any bird who sat still was fair game.
Not too far into the Riverside Lawn trail, I observed a couple new obstacles to navigate around.
It’s easier to see female Red-winged Blackbirds now, and their offspring are starting to emerge as well.
Nothing cheers me up like an enthusiastic singer. This Song Sparrow was too far away for a video but relatively easy to capture with the 400mm lens. A little snippet of his song is below the photos.
There are dozens of these damselflies everywhere.
I caught a brief glimpse of a White-breasted Nuthatch.
Monarch butterflies are out and about, if not in great numbers.
When I got back to my car, I looked to see if the Great Blue Heron that hangs out near Indian Gardens was in its favorite spot and managed to find it, albeit at a great distance.
So goes summer birding. I am now busy preparing my front and back yards for the West Cook Wild Ones Garden Tour. I just received details about the actual tour date, which is on Saturday, July 22nd, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. I am grateful for all the rain we now are getting after the long dry period, but it seems like every time I cut something down or thin out an area, more plants spring up or grow taller. At some point, it will just have to be the jungle that it is.
Check out the little green worm below right of the fly on the pink coneflower. I have never seen this before. Or could it be a caterpillar? I will have to start looking more closely; not everything is busy buzzing around.
Other than that, after my coffeemaker died on Saturday, I managed to get through Sunday morning well enough on plenty of adrenalin, but Monday after gardening in the morning and swimming midday I was so tired I basically napped my way through the rest of the day and evening, only managing to play some piano and feed the indoor crowd their evening snack. Feeding myself was too much of a chore. Every time I envisioned doing anything else, I crashed. Luckily, the replacement coffeemaker arrived yesterday and I began to restore my caffeine level this morning. Now that I have an idea of what going caffeine-free cold-turkey is like, I don’t think I’ll be trying the experiment again for some time. I need all the energy I can get the next couple of weeks.
I went back to the Chicago Portage Thursday morning to see what, if any, progress had been made. As far as I can tell, the blacktop entrances to the bridges are being replaced with cement. Only one was completed.
So I walked past the sign after I determined it was safe to do so and no work was being done that day. But I am sure if I visit on a day when work is being done, I will not be able to walk any part of the trail.
After the rain, the duckweed has disappeared. I saw no birds in the water.
I heard a Common Yellowthroat singing from across the water and I was able to spot him, but he was too far away for a photograph. Perhaps you can detect the little yellow and black blob just to the right of center below. That’s him.
Except for several American Robins and a few Indigo Buntings, most of the birds I saw were too far away for decent photographs.
An American Goldfinch perched overhead.
But then I looked out toward the marshy area and saw a male Orchard Oriole. I had been looking for this bird since I last saw one on May 25. I am thrilled to know he stayed. Now I can hope to see some offspring in the not-too-distant future.
The images are very small as these were taken at quite a distance. I included the very last photo which is not exactly in focus but I thought it was interesting to see how the plumage colors arrange themselves as the bird flies away.
There were two male Indigo Buntings that posed for me. Neither one was Tadziu, but I heard him and all is well.
Also in the marshy area where the Orchard Oriole was seen, were a few Red-winged Blackbird females and offspring.
I don’t think I’ve seen Spiderwort here before. I like this flower, even if it tends to sometimes show up in inconvenient spots in my yard.
Now that I have an Elderberry growing in my backyard, I have to pay homage to this one that takes up practically the entire “island.” It’s also a reminder to watch how quickly mine grows and to keep it from taking over the neighborhood.
I hadn’t been over to Riverside yet to see how full the river was, but I noted the bottomlands were flooded next to the Portage.
Not a lot of butterflies, but this Cabbage White made itself available.
Not the most attractive spot for a Red Admiral, but it seemed content to be there.
I visited Riverside on Friday, on my way to the pool, and it was good to see the Des Plaines River full again. I will be back with a short report.
The week so far has seemed surreal. Last Sunday, the day Linda and I played flute and piano music for Unity Temple’s superb shared pulpit service led by Charlie Hoch, an all-day downpour began just shortly before I left the house to pick up Linda and arrive by 8:30 AM. But oh, how we needed the rain. The US Drought Monitor hasn’t been updated yet but I suspect we are at least out of “severe” drought now.
In my suburb the accumulation was reported at 9 inches. There were flood warnings lighting up my cellphone, but I was not worried. I have so many trees and native plants, I did not have one drop of water in the house. Both rain barrels were full. So was a previously empty plastic gallon bottle sitting next to them for handy refilling of the birdbaths. The next day, my front yard was abuzz with bees and other pollinators as the flowers had also taken a drink and opened.
The photos in this post were taken in Riverside by the Des Plaines River on June 19, and from my front yard this morning. I am trying to write this post while the bombs are going off in the neighborhood. At least that’s what it feels like. I hate fireworks. I am not looking forward to finding fireworks debris in my yard tomorrow. I can’t imagine how the wild animals tolerate this idiocy. My indoor birds have always been very good sports about it. They seem less bothered by the noise. I suspect they consider humans generally noisy anyway and they just deal with it much better than I do.
Back to the subject… So when I took the photos in Riverside, the Des Plaines River was very low. Gulls seemed to consider this an opportunity. I followed the Ring-billed Gull below as it caught something in the river, close to the Joliet Avenue bridge.
I started noticing Cliff Swallows nesting in the holes in the wall left after the removal of the Hofmann Dam.
I didn’t realize until I went through these photos that I saw a Herring Gull that day. They are less frequently seen than the Ring-billed Gulls.
Also not far from the bridge was a female Red-winged Blackbird.
The birds that seemed to be especially enjoying the low water level were Common Grackles. Below is a series of photos as I saw one bathing in the shallow water.
A pair of Mallards claimed a no-longer-submerged rock as their own.
Across the river in Riverside Lawn, a hollowed-out fallen tree caught my eye.
When I crossed the foot bridge there was a Double-crested Cormorant in the water. I wondered how well a diving cormorant could fish in such shallow water. As if in answer to my question, the cormorant started to take off for another location.
Taking note of some year-round residents. Below, a Mourning Dove and a Blue Jay.
The Common Grackle below had a rather large stick in its bill. I never saw what it did with it.
There are a couple places with fallen logs by the river on the Riverside Lawn side where I can sit and watch the birds. I had been noticing this one Tree Swallow that seemed to have a nest in a tree stump on the other side.
Back to the Common Grackles.
Suddenly a fledgling appeared. The parent bird was not pleased. Maybe it was time for the youngster to find out how to forage for itself.
I saw a couple Gray Catbirds that day. The disheveled one looks like a newbie.
Back by the exposed rocks near the Joliet Avenue Bridge was a Killdeer.
This morning, before the heat and the noise, I took a quick peek at the front yard. Below is a nice bunch of Silene Stellata – Starry Campion. I am puzzled because I have never seen this before. It’s a native, so I’m not worried. But I did not plant it. I wonder if there is an outside chance that the person who planted my front yard however many years ago had it in the mix and it never managed to express itself until now, but that seems beyond belief.
A Red Admiral was enjoying the Purple Coneflowers.
I also have a few Pink Coneflowers but I am not sure if they are blooming yet or maybe I just can’t tell the difference. I’m just so happy to see so many bees.