In Riverside

It’s raining almost all day today and most of tomorrow, so I have no excuse not to finish this blog post I started a week ago.

These photos are from September 6 and September 8. I have returned to Riverside several times since. In my usual fashion, I hope to get around to that eventually.

There have been as many as 9 Great Egrets gathering just south (or is that west?) of the former Hofmann Dam. To illustrate this point I’ve borrowed a photograph from September 13, although I couldn’t get all 9 into the photo at once.

But back to the week before, when I saw only one Bay-breasted Warbler briefly on the 8th.

This Black-and-White Warbler was a little easier to photograph.

I had good looks at a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Tennessee Warblers have been plentiful this migration, although it’s been hard to find one closer.

I feel like I have seen more Veerys this fall. Not a warbler, but a very special thrush.

I had seen a male Black-throated Blue Warbler at the Chicago Portage a day or two earlier, but was unable to get a good photograph. This one in Riverside Lawn made up for it.

I had some trouble figuring out the first bird below, but it seemed to suggest American Redstart to me. Now I have my doubts, though. Could it be an Orange-crowned? If so, it would be rare for the early date. I leave it up to conjecture. This is a never-ending challenge. In any event, the second bird is a first-year male American Redstart with no doubt about it.

Nashville Warblers started showing up and I have seen many more lately.

Magnolia Warblers don’t seem to be as plentiful this year. It’s been challenging capturing the ones I have barely seen. I used to consider them rather extroverted. The bird at the top of the post is a Magnolia Warbler.

So what about all those other birds?

I have seen one Double-crested Cormorant on virtually each occasion.

Mallards have begun to congregate in the river.

There have not been so many Great Blue Herons but I have seen at least two, maybe three on occasion, though they tend to be in solitary locations.

On the 6th, when I saw very few birds, I was treated to a Solitary Sandpiper flying by and then landing where I could get a few images.

Crossing the swinging foot bridge, I stopped to photograph this rather odd-looking spider.

Flocks of blackbirds – mainly Common Grackles and Red-wingeds – have begun to move around here and there.

And Gray-cheeked Thrushes seem to be in abundance this season as well.

Oh I have so many more photos to share with you. I will try to take advantage of the rain making me stay inside and not take anymore! But other inside activities, if you can call them that, beckon. It’s cool enough to catch up on some cooking. There’s the biweekly cleaning of the dining room and the weekly cage cleaning (both are to be accomplished today). Musical routines are always adhered to. I could go on. Perhaps most frustrating is the book I’ve been trying to write finally working out in my head. Finding the time in to get it written is the issue. If not on a rainy day, then when? Let’s see how loud the voices in my head become. To be continued.

Rain Restores the River

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.

A young American Robin

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.

Song Sparrow

There are dozens of these damselflies everywhere.

Blue-fronted Dancer

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.

Chilling on the Fourth

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.

The bees were also busy with the Shrubby Saint Johns Wort. The blossoms don’t seem to be as full as usual but maybe more rain will take care of that.

I was delighted to see a female Widow Skimmer.

Also, I planted a little Bergamot last year and this morning I noticed it is now in bloom. I had this flower in the backyard years ago and it didn’t last after the trees grew and cast too much shade. I am glad to have it back again.

Briefly, in the backyard, buds abound but less is in bloom at the moment. By July 22, the day of the Wild Ones West Cook Garden Tour, there should be a riot of color mainly orchestrated by Tall Ironweed that wants to take over the planet. Below, some Rudbeckia, I think it’s fulgida, a/k/a Brown-eyed Susan, and blossoms on the quickly growing Elderberry I planted just last year.

I will be back with more of this sort of thing as the month progresses. Right now all I care about is an end to the fireworks. Every time there’s a lull I think, could it be over? Not yet as of 11:30 PM.

Another Day in May

Here are photos from May 15 in Riverside. It was another beautiful for day for warblers, several thrushes and yes, Common Grackles. The Grackles remain for the summer. People kid me about the Grackles but I think they are beautiful birds in their iridescence. And I’m trying to stay on their good side so maybe they won’t rain acorns on me like they did last fall.

These photos are arranged pretty much in the order that I took them. So my first warbler was a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

It got a good if distant look at an Eastern Phoebe.

Below is a Swainson’s Thrush.

The Scarlet Tanagers were in town that week and I had to obey.

The photo below of a Palm Warbler intrigues me particularly because of the green catkins on the walnut tree.

And now for the star of the show that day. It’s always a joy to find a beautiful male Blackburnian Warbler in the spring.

I have seen more Gray-cheeked Thrushes this year than I have in a long time.

I encountered a singing White-crowned Sparrow. I was only able to capture a snippet of his song in the video below the photographs, but I love it, it always sounds a little jazzy to me with its syncopation.

Here’s another Palm Warbler.

I have heard about the snakes that like to warm up in the sunshine on the riverbank, but I had never seen or been able to capture them with a quick photo until that day. I believe they were Common Watersnakes.

I had a few brief looks at a female American Redstart.

I was particularly happy to see and hear a Canada Warbler.

This Swainson’s Thrush picked a lovely fallen log close to the river’s edge.

I never ignore Magnolia Warblers

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the view below before.

Chipmunks are back in full force.

A nice-looking Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler showed up to remind me that Magnolias are not the only black-white-and-yellow option

I found a fairly friendly White-throated Sparrow.

I think I have seen more Veerys this year too.

House Wrens are Everywhere. Rarely so easy to see as this one, but they sing almost constantly to let you know they’re there. This one wasn’t singing, however!

Gray Catbirds can be a reclusive bunch too.

Yes, another Gray-cheeked Thrush.

I try not to take our year-round red birds for granted…

Northern Cardinal

I was very pleased to find a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

The second male Magnolia Warbler that posed was also singing. I barely managed a snippet of his song in the video below. By the way, I’m doing the videos almost more for the sound recording which is much clearer than what I get with my phone’s voice recorder.

Lastly, I was very happy to find a somewhat reclusive Wood Thrush.

Here’s another shot of the Common Grackle at the beginning of the post, showing off a variety of colors.

Oh there is so much more to report. I will return with something a little more current before I wade through any more photos from the peak of migration.

We have cooled off a little bit, but it’s still too dry. The next promise of precipitation is Sunday morning. I may have to go to church. A song we sang during the pandemic, written by Jan Garrett and JD Martin, “I Dreamed of Rain”, has come back to haunt me.

One Day in May

I thought I would be combining photos from a couple days in Riverside, but I took more than enough on May 17. It was perhaps my best spring migration day from the standpoint of seeing some birds I had not seen yet this spring and receiving great cooperation from them. My list totaled 52 species that day, and I spent a little over three hours to see them. Two days earlier on the 15th, I had 57 species – we will have to get caught up with those birds later.

When I crossed the Joliet Avenue bridge, I saw the Mallard hen below with her four ducklings. Later I saw them swimming across the river.

As I started to walk the paved path that runs along the Des Plaines River, I found birds here and there tucked into the trees.

Least Flycatcher
Believe it or not – a Yellow-rumped Warbler
A more recognizable Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Robin

I took the photo of the fisherman below to show how low the river was. Unfortunately, nearly 2 weeks later, it is even lower now. We are experiencing “moderate drought” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

I could not resist photographing these Tree Swallows taking a break. I shot the two twice to focus on one and then the other.

I crossed the footbridge and walked into Riverside Lawn. There I encountered an American Redstart singing enthusiastically. The video clip below has a small portion of his song.

For a Redstart, he was relatively easy to capture.

It’s annoying to try and figure out flycatchers that don’t vocalize, but for some reason I decided this one was an Alder Flycatcher.

I never tire of Magnolia Warblers.

This was the first time I saw Cedar Waxwings this spring.

Palm Warblers were everywhere for weeks. Now they are being seen here and there but the sightings are rare. This one didn’t want to be seen at all.

I don’t always find an Indigo Bunting here, so this was a nice encounter.

Gray Catbirds are everywhere.

Scarlet Tanagers were around for maybe a couple weeks. The yellow on the one below is interesting.

Sooner or later a female Red-winged Blackbird strikes an interesting pose.

Common Yellowthroats are frequently heard but rarely seen in areas with more trees, so I was very happy to get a chance to photograph this one.

Another warbler that’s not always easy to see, in part because it tends to stay close to the ground, is the Ovenbird.

Yet another Scarlet Tanager…

And another male American Redstart…

No matter how long I photographed the flycatcher below, it would not turn sideways so I could see its wing bars. I think it’s an Alder Flycatcher.

The thrushes were abundant and lovely to see this spring.


Then I got lucky enough to see a less-often-seen warbler. This is a male Black-throated Blue Warbler. If I had gotten no other photograph but the first one below, I would still be able to tell what it was from the distinguishing white check mark on the wing. That identifier helps a lot when seeing the female of this species.

It’s easy to take Yellow-rumped Warblers for granted, but I thought this one took an interesting pose.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Nashville Warblers made themselves available only in part all season.

I caught up with the Ovenbird again later and it posed for me.

More Magnolia Warblers…

Female Scarlet Tanagers are beautiful too. The light on the bird in the first photograph makes it look almost like another species.

The guys are just fabulous. One of those days in Riverside I saw a male Scarlet Tanager appear in a tree right above a couple walking toward me with their dog and I pointed to the tanager. They looked up and saw it. I got a thumbs-up.

Let’s not forget about Mourning Doves. It was a Mourning Dove’s song that got me started with the whole birds-sing-in-key-with-music stuff.

Here’s one more of the Magnolia Warbler that’s at the top of the post.

This appears to be a lovely female Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

And in better light, it was easier to see this Palm Warbler.

The Ring-billed Gull below was putting on a little show on the wall by the Hofmann Dam.

And now for a little vireo review. Red-eyed Vireos are heard more often than seen, with their distinctive question-sounding song. But every once in a while I get to photograph an individual.

And then on occasion I get to see a Warbling Vireo well.

It has taken me days to get through this. I hope it won’t take you that long!

I have been out every day finding more birds, which would be enough to keep me occupied. But now we suddenly have summer weather – the heat of it, anyway – with no rain, and I have new plants in the ground and more coming shortly, so I have added watering the garden in the evening to the daily routine. I bought a new hose that just makes it either to the back or the front of my lot. Even though we had a drought last summer, it was generally cooler, and I managed to get by without watering at all, but that was because of all the established native plants. I am planting new things while preparing for a native garden walk the third week of July.

June will be “Bustin’ Out All Over.”

Down by the River

My visits to Riverside last Wednesday and Friday were quiet but interesting. On Friday, I found myself at eye-level with a Great Blue Heron perched in a tree near the paved trail in Riverside. Returning in the opposite direction on the trail, I encountered the heron fishing by the shore.

Leaves starting on the trees

I was so happy to see the footbridge without scaffolding, I didn’t look closely enough to realize that it was still under rehabilitation. After I turned away, a woman passing by said it would be closed for two months! Right in time for warbler migration, I thought. But there are still plenty of places to walk without crossing the bridge.

The Golden-crowned Kinglets were first to show up, and now the Ruby-crowned Kinglets, like the one below, seem to be prevalent. You have to look really close at the bottom photo to see a sliver of red on the crown.

The unusual way the light struck this American Robin made it look almost like another species.

Everything seems transformed by spring.

A White-breasted Nuthatch on my favorite Hackberry tree bark
A Boxelder Maple
Lichen or fungus and moss underneath

Walking in Riverside Lawn, I spotted two Eastern Phoebes near the water. They were both singing slightly different songs.

It’s nest-building season and this female Northern Cardinal was on a mission.