Oh Foggy Day

We are experiencing a brief, wet warmup. Due to the forecast, I spent most of this morning indoors. As I sat on the futon and began to assemble this post, I wondered if the precipitation outside inspired a number of my indoor birds to bathe in the pie-plate birdbath that sits atop the third finch cage. Furious after-bath feather shuffling and preening aside, the test of the emergency broadcast system on WFMT brought on the usual immediate response of the Zebra Finch Chorus as they yelled back at it collectively. Yesterday they all responded briefly to what sounded like a child’s vocalization outside. But earlier this morning when I heard the municipal alarm tests in the distance, the birds did not comment. Perhaps only certain frequencies elicit their response. One thing is certain. They never seem to find a reason to protest the noise of fireworks that drive me insane every year.

Since the first few days of 2023 have not afforded any notable sightings and I am weary of trying to focus the camera in this gloomy weather, today’s post reflects previous gloomy visits to the Chicago Portage on December 29 and a smidgen from December 13.

On the 29th, I first spotted a distant Downy Woodpecker

There’s probably no good reason to show three nearly-identical photographs of the Fox Sparrow below, which I encountered on the 29th, except that it insisted on sitting still for so long I had to comply with its request to be noticed. I had been walking the trail encountering no birds whatsoever after the Downy for at least fifteen minutes when I heard a sparrow call from the vegetation on the slope next to the trail. I wasn’t sure which species it was, but I decided to stop and respond to the best of my ability in kind with the call. Soon, this Fox Sparrow came out from where it had been hiding and sat directly in front of me. We stared at each other for a moment and then I slowly raised my lens to see if it was possible to get its photograph. Little did I know the bird would be so starved for attention from anyone that it would sit and sit and, well, you get the idea. I finally had to give up my stillness and cause it to move because it might still be perched there if I had not.

That encounter was enough for me to feel like the visit that morning had certainly been worth it. Anything after that would be icing on the cake. As it turned out, there wasn’t much.

One distant falcon flew over and at first I wrote it off as a Cooper’s Hawk but the bend and angle in the wing and the shape of the head suggested otherwise. I’ve decided it was a Merlin.

Just one gray sky background after another. I kept trying to see if this Hairy Woodpecker would finish preening and decide that he looked okay.

Were it not for this Northern Cardinal’s color I might not have seen him at all.

Here’s how various parts of the Portage looked on the 29th. Absolutely nothing happening in the water either.

Except for the melt and the water draining out under the bridge closest to Harlem Avenue.

One struggles these days to find a couple distantly perched American Goldfinches.

Another Hairy Woodpecker chose a better background. He was a lot closer too than the preening one.

And then right before I left, an adult Bald Eagle flew over the parking lot.

On the 13th the sky appeared even darker.

But things hadn’t gotten quite so cold yet and there was still duckweed – and Canada Geese – in the water. Not much else to report from that day, but it is nice to see a reminder of how much water can accumulate in the stream.

So today has been on-and-off drizzle or light rain, intense fog and even a brief – perhaps for one or two minutes – thunderstorm. Every once in a while the sky gets a bit lighter and I think it’s over only to collapse into utter gloom again. It is turning out to be a good day for cleaning. I cleaned the dining room, I’m doing a load of laundry and I’ll clean cages in the basement later.

Playing a little music for the service on January 1 was somewhat fun, with all the attendant miseries and mishaps of live performance kept to a minimum, and I think I have finally let go of it. All in all it went fine and if I wind up doing it again I’ll know the flow of things better. At the end of the day, to paraphrase a line from the interview segment of The Goat Rodeo Sessions – Chris Thile reiterated what Stuart Duncan said – it’s just music.

M-W-F Riverside

My three morning visits to Riverside last week were pretty uneventful, but I felt grateful for safe and predictable treks through familiar surroundings. When one’s perception of reality keeps changing, it’s reassuring to know some things have not transformed totally, even as the seasons impose metamorphoses. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, something unexpected might occur.

On Friday, three days after the Portage Peregrine Falcon, I noticed this one perched across the river. I have to wonder if it is the same bird.

The sunniest day was Monday. I first noticed the sunrise outside my front door and tried to capture it with my cell phone. I don’t really have any horizon views in my neighborhood but it was still worth commemorating.

Below is the view of the Des Plaines River by the time I got to Riverside.

It was still strange to see how low the river was.

The Mallards didn’t mind. In fact, lately they are the dominant species.

There are a lot of Dark-eyed Juncos too, but I rarely get them to sit still. This one might have felt less obvious with a branch in front of its face.

Now is the time to see where all the summer’s Baltimore Oriole nests were.

A Red-tailed Hawk took advantage of clear skies on Monday and proceeded to scatter the Rock Pigeons.

On Wednesday this wasp nest became more apparent. Wednesday was pretty sunny too.

Dark-eyed Juncos up to something.

American Goldfinches are more scattered lately. I am beginning to see a few at my feeders.

I spotted a Song Sparrow nearly disappearing in with its surroundings.

I was struck by the light shining on the Riverside Lawn trail.

It was a good day to be a Mallard. stand in the shallow river and preen.

Even this male Northern Cardinal didn’t mind me taking his photograph as he sat in the sunshine.

When I returned back to Lyons by the Hofmann Dam, I noticed some House Sparrows and became intrigued by one that seemed to be eating seeds from the invasive Phragmites.

On Friday there was not much to look at.

I managed to capture a pair of Mallards as they made their way upstream.

The bare trees crowd the riverbanks.

I had to do some grocery shopping after I went swimming on Friday, so I got home a bit later than usual. As I was putting groceries away, I looked out the back door window and saw a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in my hawthorn tree. I hadn’t removed the lens from the camera yet so I was able to grab a couple photos before it left. It’s a small tree so the hawk looked even bigger.

I had a very relaxing weekend. I was inside the house long enough to do some organizing and find some things I didn’t realize I had. I also went back to writing the book. Maybe I will make some progress as there is less time to be distracted by daylight adventures. My indoor birds are cheering me on when they aren’t busy tearing paper for their nests or chewing on my socks.

End of September at the Chicago Portage – Part I

I am trying to take advantage of a rainy day to get caught up with fall photos and give my laptop some space. It’s almost a daily challenge to manage enough room for photographs and now that the oscillating fans have been relegated to the basement for storage until next summer, it’s quiet enough to record the inside birds with music again, which means inevitably taking up more digital space somewhere.

I realized that there were leftovers from the end of September which was not all that long ago, but before the cold snap and the leaves changing. These photos are from September 27. I will follow very shortly with those from two days later. I just couldn’t manage them all in one post.

Below is a native plant, White Snakeroot or Ageratina altissima, which began to suddenly explode everywhere. It took me a while to stop confusing it with Boneset. If nothing else, the broad, heart-shaped leaves set it apart from Boneset.

White Snakeroot

The clouds were interesting that morning.

Bay-breasted Warblers come in a variety of subtle color variations in the fall and this year was no exception.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglets were higher up in the trees.

Black-capped Chickadees always announce their presence to me, whether they make themselves visible or not. This visit I had a couple opportunities to photograph them.

Here are two more Bay-breasted Warblers.

A brief look at a Rose-breasted Grosbeak gave me two images I can’t decide between.

Perhaps the highlight of that morning was hearing and then seeing a Red-shouldered Hawk. Actually, the Red-shouldered was in the sky at the same time two Red-tailed Hawks were flying around as well, and the Red-shouldered was interacting with one of them, which gave me an opportunity to compare. The Red-shouldered is smaller and darker-appearing of the two in the photos below. But perspective is everything as in the last photograph where the Red-shouldered is somewhat in the foreground it appears to be the same size.

I’ll be back very soon with photos from two days later – September 29. Gotta be good to my hard drive and give it space for everything else it does.

Raptor Review at the Chicago Portage

Back on August 23rd when I went to the Chicago Portage there wasn’t a lot happening on the ground. It was a warm, sunny day, but it was quiet. Two American Robins sat still on a log in the duckweed-covered water.

A Tawny Emperor Butterfly sat quietly on cement.

Even the American Goldfinches were quiet.

At one point I spotted an enterprising White-breasted Nuthatch.

A juvenile Baltimore Oriole spent a lot of time figuring out his feathers.

And a young-looking Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was thinking about migration. This could be the last time I saw this species.

First one, and then two, Wood Ducks appeared, quietly.

I had just about given up on my visit when I heard the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk. I looked up to the sky, but I didn’t see the Red-tailed Hawk. Instead I saw Turkey Vultures. They kept coming. I counted five of them, but was only able to barely capture two in one frame.

Then a Cooper’s Hawk flew over, soaring, giving me a lot of its flight in pictures.

And then the Red-tailed Hawk appeared. It also put on quite a performance.

Just when I thought I’d seen everything, an adult Osprey and an adult Bald Eagle were both in the same air space. The very last photograph all the way down at the bottom of the series below was the best I could get of the two of them in one shot.

Bald Eagle

It’s unusual enough to see any one of these birds, but all of them in succession on one clear day was quite a treat.


So you never know what you will find when it comes to birds. I am still in shock over the sight of five Turkey Vultures at once.

The last couple days have been quieter too, migration-wise, but I have had some nice encounters and I hope to be back sooner than later. We are getting a little rain for a change and a cold front has moved in, allowing me the luxury of keeping the windows open for the remainder of the Labor Day weekend. I am quite aware this is not perfect holiday weather for some people, but I am glad to get a break from the heat and humidity.

And just for the heck of it, here’s a Downy Woodpecker in my yard suggesting I fill one of the suet feeders. These photos are left over from a couple posts ago when I featured my Ruby-throated Hummingbird girls.

A Downy settled for peanuts later. I’m not sure if this is the same individual.

Fall migration marches on. It’s good to have the sense of something we can still count on.

Spring Bird Count

One thing I can always look forward to on a Spring Bird Count at McKee Marsh in DuPage County is seeing a lot of Tree Swallows, and if it’s as sunny as that Saturday, May 7, 2022 was, they are positively iridescent. I don’t look forward to getting up at 3:30 in the morning so I can leave almost an hour before we meet, but somehow I still managed to do it and this time I stayed for the entire day. We covered McKee Marsh and Blackwell Forest Preserve in DuPage County, and ponds in the vicinity of the airport, which was a new location for all of us.

There were a few Eastern Bluebirds claiming the bluebird boxes as well. It’s only fair.

You have to look closely to see several Eastern Kingbirds in the photo below.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were still around.

And Song Sparrows, of course…

Field Sparrows were abundant and singing.

The real treat for me was to see and hear several Henslow’s Sparrows.

A Great Egret or two around the airport ponds…

We didn’t have a lot of warblers but Pine Warblers were down on or near the ground as they had been elsewhere this chilly, late-start spring.

A nice male Rose-breasted Grosbeak would not turn around to show off his namesake field mark.

We had our share of hawks. Below is a Cooper’s Hawk.

And this bird turned out to be a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk in my photographs. The heavy barring on the breast was something I had never noticed before and that helped clinch the identification.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Then there was a Northern Harrier on the scene.

It was being harassed by Red-winged Blackbirds.

A few more harassment photos…

Look closely to find the distant Bobolink in the photo below.

The unexpected bird on the count was a juvenile Trumpeter Swan.

The count totaled 173 species for DuPage County. The next SBC will take place on May 6, 2023.

I’ll be back soon. Lots of photos still to immortalize and what better time than a couple days of instant summer when it will simply be too hot to stay outside very long.

Back to the Portage

But first, a Song Sparrow that somehow didn’t make it into the last post. I have heard Song Sparrows on occasion at the Portage but have not seen many this year.

This is my birthday weekend and if my memory serves me correctly, also the anniversary of this blog although I don’t remember how many years it has been and am too lazy to look it up. I did manage to visit the Portage on Saturday morning and will be back with that report later, but since I started this post two (?) weeks ago I feel obligated to finish it. I just checked. The photos below are from June 13. We were hot and dry. We have since had a lot of rain and flooding, but not quite enough to take us out of the “abnormally dry” category on the Illinois Drought Monitor.

Yellow Warblers nest here and were pretty elusive but I did finally manage to capture this one.

I am always intrigued by the sight of a Red-winged Blackbird chasing a Red-tailed Hawk…

Insects are sparse, which is not news, but makes the few individuals one sees that much more precious. I think I may have identified the two below. I haven’t had to resort to bug spray yet this year, although I do have a few bites I occasionally scratch to remind me it’s not over yet. The effect of insects being sparse, however, is bad news for the dragonflies and birds that eat them.

Hobomok Skipper
Likely a female Variable Dancer.

Cabbage White butterflies have been the most prevalent, and even they seem sparse. They are an introduced species.

For what it’s worth, the volunteers at the Portage have been busy reducing invasive plant species, and it is gratifying to see the natives return. Last time I saw them at work they were cutting away massive swaths of hemlock. Unfortunately it was in flower so it will likely return. But a lot of the burdock from years ago is gone. It’s a slow process.


More often heard than seen – a Blue Jay.

The male Brown-headed Cowbird below intrigued me by the light-colored throat feathers. It might just be a trick of the light.

Below is what I believe is a young Northern Flicker peering out of a nest hole.

The Indigo Buntings are still going strong with their songs and territories and it’s hard to resist them. I have to quit taking them for granted. They weren’t here in these numbers ten years ago.

The Baltimore Orioles have been harder to spot as they tend to their broods, but I got lucky and watched this one as he visited the nest.

Baltimore Oriole nest

So I hope to be back later today with a little yard report. If I could have one thing on my birthday (while it’s still quiet and getting too hot to be outside for very long), it would be to have time to write another blog post.

My best friend from junior high is in town from California for her mother’s 100th birthday and has chosen to stay with me and the birds. Luckily there is a relatively comfortable finished attic – I call it my people space. I bought a new room air conditioner which seems to be keeping it cool enough up there. So I am foregoing my traditional visit to Goose Lake Prairie this year. Maybe I can take off for that grassland later in the month. Today I will enjoy hanging out with my friend and trying to be lazy.

McGinnis Magic

There wasn’t an awful lot going on at McGinnis on my last visit, but the sight of two Sandhill Cranes foraging in the lawn right off the parking lot automatically made it a special day.

I guess McGinnis is always good for a Great Blue Heron or two. But I’m surprised I haven’t seen any Great Egrets lately.

It’s really dry..

Not a lot of swallows that day but I managed to capture this Tree Swallow.

Not sure I have seen these Irises here before. Nice.

This Song Sparrow was almost completely hidden. We compromised.

Common Grackles are here and there.

Perhaps the second nicest surprise was to see a first-year male Orchard Oriole right before I left.

The lack of light didn’t offer much contrast with these raptors flying overhead.

While I was kind of hoping to see a colt or two with the Sandhills, which I never have here, I did see two Canada Geese in the same spot as the Sandhills were earlier – and they were carefully watching one lone gosling.

Providing additional interest, a Red-Winged Blackbird trying to make sense of a piece of ice cream cone.

I am always impressed by a Robin taking a pose.

I haven’t been able to think about much besides work lately. That – and the burrowing rats in my yard. I just removed all the feeders except for the hummingbird and oriole feeders – for 10 days. The city has provided an exterminator to discourage the rats, and I can only hope for elimination as up until the pandemic, they were never around. But adding insult to injury is the drought. I take it personally, I don’t know why – but the thought of weather like Phoenix, Arizona has never been attractive to me. Nothing against anyone who loves hot, dry weather. It has its place. But not here.

Thanks for letting me rant. I do have more cheerful posts in store and what should be a fun event I will share with you in the next few weeks.

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!

Cold, Snowy January – Part 3

From no light to almost too much, this past Saturday! It was clear and cold. The sunshine helped my mood a lot, especially because it wasn’t particularly windy.

It’s always good to see a Red-tailed Hawk, even if you can’t see the red tail – at least I could make out the belly band in the pictures.

Just when you think you know a place by heart, somebody does something to totally disrupt your perception of it. The first thing I noticed were tire tracks leading from the parking lot to a spot where there used to be some nice flat rocks I often sat on to take a break and look over the water. They were accompanied by a large pointy boulder. The rocks and boulder have been removed and this fence put around the area. I can’t imagine what is going in their place. Unfortunately I don’t believe I ever took any pictures of the rocks themselves. The goal was always to sit on them.

My stump was looking well-defined that morning.

A couple White-Throated Sparrows made themselves available on the way out after I answered their calls.

This Black-Capped Chickadee was fascinated by something in the wasp nest.