One Sunny Morning

Sunshine is at such a premium these days, I can only remember one or two sunny mornings. One of them was this past Sunday, but I was inside, singing with the choir. It was a wonderful experience, however, made that much more special by our guest soloist, tenor Sean Harris. The energy he brought to our collective performance was palpable. The light of that occasion has kept me going through ensuing dark mornings all week.

These photos are all from the sunniest day of the month so far, January 9, in Riverside. The first bird I saw was 64H. Below his photo is the certificate I received from the USGS the same day I reported seeing him. Since he is at least 8 years old and I nearly always see him alone, I have imagined a rather sad story. I suspect it is likely he lost his mate and is waiting for someone like her to accompany him.

Some Mallards were enjoying a nap in the sunshine.

There may not have been a lot of birds, but those I could photograph were so much easier to focus on with light. What a concept.

When trying to photograph the Common Goldeneyes, sunshine was the problem.

After what seemed like several weeks, the American Robins were back.

Even this Northern Cardinal didn’t seem to mind posing for me. I guess he figured the pictures would come out pretty good with all that sunshine.

I saw 64H again later on the grass. Then a few more Canada Geese came in for a landing.

That was it for sunshine. Except for a rainy day or two, I have gone out in the mornings and have seen birds every time, in spite of the endless clouds. There’s no sunshine in the foreseeable future, but I will try to be back sooner with a more recent report.

2023 Begins

Gray day after gray day. The year got off to a gloomy start. But I am happy to report today was mostly sunny, tomorrow will be as well, and even yesterday afternoon – after I got back from a visit to the lakefront – the sun had broken through the clouds. So I hope to be sharing sunnier-looking reports with you soon.

That said, these photos are from visits to Riverside on January 2 and 4.

On the 2nd, perhaps most interesting was observing a disagreement between two Mallard drakes. The one on the right is the interloper. You can see the progression of their little spat by advancing the slide show. The guy on the left was eventually successful in defending his territory and saw the challenger off into the water.

Beyond that I noticed a pair of Mallards preening on their own little ice floe.

For the lack of birds to photograph I took notice of some other things.

The old Riverside water tower,,,

Some interesting lichen below…

That looks to be Phycomeces or “Snow Mold” below, then some of the moss that grows on the stones lining the paved river path, and I don’t know what to make of the stringy roots attached to a fallen log but it looked interesting on January 2.

When I got back to the Lyons side of the river I found some distant Red-winged Blackbirds and Dark-eyed Juncos.

January 4 was considerably cloudier, if that can be imagined.

The light was so poor it was difficult to capture any birds clearly, but luckily I had an obliging Black-capped Chickadee or two.

Even these Northern Cardinals seemed skeptical that I would bother trying to capture their images.

I managed a few photos of a young-looking White-breasted Nuthatch.

And the best bird – because I haven’t seen one in quite a while – turned out to be a Brown Creeper, rather close to the paved path.

Canada Geese were coming back to the river as soon as enough ice was melting. I have seen “64H” so far every visit this year. I just decided to report it to the US Geological Survey to find out where it was banded. It will likely take several weeks to get a reply.

I hope to be back very soon with a 2023 Crow Post. The days are getting longer. Yesterday late afternoon when I was playing piano for the birds, we welcomed the first fledgling. It’s a beautiful little dark gray bird with a very striking white throat. I hope it does well and grows up to be a welcome member of the flock.

On top of everything, I have found a new source of energy in spite of the winter gloom. I am having fun writing the book, all of a sudden. I know one is not supposed to have fun writing a book, but that’s where I am right now, just slowly letting it happen. It’s much like falling in love.

The River’s Slow Thaw

One result of the cold snap – frozen water – resulted in diving ducks looking for open water deep enough to, well, dive in. Although much of the Des Plaines River remains frozen around Riverside, there is open water closer to the Joliet Avenue bridge on either side. On Wednesday morning, I saw some Common Goldeneye, and yesterday morning there were several Common Mergansers. To be expected, there are a lot of Mallards up and down the river, and I saw a few of them diving too, although they don’t stay submerged very long.

The Des Plaines River looking west from the Hofmann Tower in Lyons

Below are some groups of Mallards on the ice.

It looks like there were Canada Geese here before the Mallards.

As I started to walk along the paved trail, I saw these two male Common Goldeneyes.

And then a female.

And below is a first-year male Common Goldeneye.

The rest of the river from any close vantage point was still pretty much covered in ice and snow.

The snow on the fallen logs across the worn foot-trail in Riverside Lawn adds a layer of interest.

But I really didn’t see any passerines until I got back to where my car was parked in Lyons by the Hofmann Tower.

Dark-eyed Junco – a true snow bird

Close to the wrought-iron fence by the Hofmann Tower, where the landscape descends toward the river, I spotted a Song Sparrow. And then under the feeders, another Song Sparrow and a Junco, and then an American Tree Sparrow and the Song Sparrow.

Yesterday, the view looking west from the Hofmann Tower was a bit gloomier.

There was more open water, but much of the river is still ice.

This time close to the Joliet Avenue bridge were some Common Mergansers. Below is a first-year male.

Look closely inside this bird’s open mouth and you will see a fish it has caught.

Below is an adult male Common Merganser.

The next surprise was a first-year male Hooded Merganser – farther away, and determined not to be photographed, but I kept trying in between dives and managed the images below.

I don’t know when, if ever, I have noticed first-year male ducks, so this was an educational extra benefit from winter birding. You may see fewer birds, but notice them more.

Sometimes I just have to settle for the beauty of a big, slow-moving Canada Goose.

I noticed a Mallard hen trying to eat something that seemed to keep sliding onto the ice, but I had no idea what it was until I developed the pictures. It looks like a small crayfish or maybe a piece of one.

More pictures of yesterday’s ice.

The sun keeps trying to emerge from behind what seems like eternal cloud cover.

Land birds again, few and far between. There was a Hairy Woodpecker not far from the foot bridge.

And upon returning to where my car was parked in Lyons, there were a few cold-looking American Goldfinches.

One more of the four Common Goldeneye from Wednesday.

I will be back next year (!) with more winter birding and likely even more from before. It’s hard to get my head around the fact that this is the last day of 2022, but it is, so Happy New Year to all, thanks so much for checking in, and let’s all take a deep breath for the New Year.

Saturday’s CBC and the Winter Storm Watch

Saturday’s Christmas Bird Count was Cold, Cloudy and Convivial. Shortly after we met at 7:15 AM in the parking lot of Mooseheart, a Bald Eagle flew overhead, but it was too quick and too cloudy for me to capture. We traipsed around trails in various locations alongside the Fox River and I wish I kept track of them all with my cell phone but suffice it to say there is not much to report anyway. Many of the species we expected to see were not present in our spots. Another group along different spots of the Fox River saw all the waterfowl we missed.

But we had just enough birds to keep us going and good conversation, a chance to warm up inside at lunch and again at our last stop where there was a nature center.

So here’s a brief recap of the few birds I managed to capture, and for the fun of it, all I have barely seen the last couple days.

Fox River

Our biggest contribution to the count was documenting over 1100 European Starlings. They began to fly over in groups of 300-400 in the afternoon, and then we found them settling in the trees and on top of structures. My best guess is that they were responding to the change in temperature and getting ready to fly south. The lack of good light made the phenomenon difficult to capture en masse.

Just a few of several hundred European Starlings

My best photo op of the day was following one of two Red-tailed Hawks that were together.

Then around the Nature Center I managed a few photos.

I visited Riverside on Monday morning and saw more Canada Geese by the Hofmann Tower than I did on Saturday.

At least it was a sunny day. But these Mallards looked cold.

And cold it was.

The trail obstructions didn’t provide any interest for me or any birds.

On Tuesday morning, I went to the Chicago Portage, and did not fare much better in the bird department.

But the sunshine was lovely for a while.

There was some water flowing out from the ice at the bridge by Harlem, as usual.

The view of the Des Plaines from the break in the fence was of frozen bottomland and blue sky reflection.

And there were only a few birds available on the inside trail when I managed to get there. They were enjoying the sun before it dipped back behind the clouds.

The sun was gone by the time I left.

Yesterday I did not go for a walk before swimming, because it seemed better to do my grocery shopping before the storm which is big enough to have earned the name “Elliott”. Fear of the storm was making everyone else prepare for the worst. Traffic was thick and parking lots filled. I went swimming first and then ran my errands. Still holding on to as much of my routine as possible, I celebrated Egg Wednesday for brunch around 2:30 (I make scrambled eggs and onions, usually adding a chile and some cheese, on Wednesdays to tide me over through the evening choir rehearsal) and then started playing a little piano and feeding the birds inside and outside before moving on to choir. Twenty-four of us are singing for the Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve. It will be quite early this year, but since it’s dark by 4:30, a 6:00 pm service will seem close enough to midnight.

I miss my walks, but my main goal through all this is to save my parking spot which will be more critical when the snow hits and the plow comes through. The forecast is for 3 to 6 inches which is less than predicted a couple days ago, but adding the expected windchill and blizzard conditions it will be just enough to impede travel. Our high tomorrow is -1 degrees Fahrenheit with -10 the low – and however many more degrees below for the windchill. Christmas Eve, flipping those numbers to 10 above and -1 below, will not be much better except that I am hoping the wind has died down by the time I have to drive to Unity Temple.

The bright side to this sequestration is hanging out with the indoor birds, warming up the kitchen baking Cinnamon-Oatmeal-Raisin bread and making a French Onion Panade, and catching up on other indoor pursuits. I will likely be tempted to document what’s going on outside as well and with any luck I will get some photographs of the yard birds over the next few days. I hope your holidays are filled with warmth and good cheer and not too much stress. Stay warm and sleep well!

Riverside Wrens and Friends

I returned to Riverside Monday morning, after my previous visit last Wednesday. The weather was sunnier on Wednesday than Monday. But on Wednesday, I heard and then saw a Winter Wren, and even managed to get some photographs of it. Which is more than I got this past Monday when I had even better looks at the Winter Wren, but that’s another story.

Since this is a long and somewhat complicated post, I think I’ll revert to chronological order. Below is what the Des Plaines River looked like last Wednesday, for starters. The water level was a little bit higher than it was Monday.

In the raptor department, there was a distant, perched Cooper’s Hawk with its back to me.

American Goldfinches are still seen here and there.

I can remember complaining the last few years about never getting a photograph of a Dark-eyed Junco. Now I have way too many of them.

In good light, Downy Woodpeckers can be good subjects.

The sky was almost too blue a background for this White-breasted Nuthatch.

Shortly after I crossed the footbridge to Riverside Lawn, I had my Winter Wren encounter. The wren was at some distance but on a sunny day I was able to capture it cavorting around.

Perhaps the only bird the sun did not treat well that day was this female Northern Cardinal.

When I returned on Monday, it was cloudy.

Des Plaines River

And the river was low again, with many places for Canada Geese to stand in.

I caught a flurry of Rock Pigeons around the Hofmann Tower, but there was no accompanying raptor so I don’t know what caused them to go into flight drills.

Two Dark-eyed Juncos are below, with a White-throated Sparrow in the middle. Unfortunately they were backlit but I because haven’t seen very many White-throated Sparrows this fall I am including it.

Off Riverside’s paved trail, I found this Red-bellied Woodpecker busily inspecting a stump.

When I got over to Riverside Lawn, it wasn’t long before I realized that another tree had fallen and the trail, such as it is, was now totally obscured and not exactly passable. Before trying to decide how I was going to go around all this mess, I decided to just sit on the first fallen tree that I had been negotiating easily for about almost a month.

Almost simultaneously, the flock appeared. I suspect they were intrigued by the newly fallen log as well. Of course there were Dark-eyed Juncos.