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