Down by the River

I did go out for walk yesterday after all – not leaving until we were at least 1 degree above zero. The sun was shining brightly and it wasn’t windy, so as long as I kept moving it wasn’t too bad.

Except for a few ducks and geese, I hardly saw any birds. Heard a few.

There were a few Common Goldeneye in the open water. A Mallard drake was hanging out with a female Goldeneye. I saw him actually dive a couple times, like he was trying to be a diving duck for her.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of him completely submerged – not that it would have been possible to see him anyway. But earlier I did catch a Canada Goose and a couple Mallards dabbling in their usual fashion.

Below is a Mallard during and after taking a bath.

Without many birds to photograph, there was plenty of ice and snow.

And the trail, such as it was…

Here are a few more views of the Des Plaines River and environs at this Riverside location. I was using the little mirrorless camera and because of the cold half the time I could barely see what I was shooting.

My last photograph from yesterday is of a Mallard and a Canada Goose asleep on the ice. That about sums up the morning cold.

We were pleasantly warmer in the 20’s today, but the day started off cloudy and I had grocery shopping to do, so I didn’t go for a walk. Tonight we have a winter storm watch which probably means I will be shoveling snow tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll get out over the weekend. Except we will be back in the single digits again… Sometimes I wonder if it’s good or bad to know what’s coming next.

I was going to combine these photos with some from December but decided this is enough by itself. I’ll be back with the rest. In the meantime, the indoor birds and I have settled into a sort of routine where I play piano in the late afternoon before serving their evening snack. We’re slowly making our way through Bach’s sixth English Suite in D minor, among other things. I almost have the Prelude nailed, which means memorized… it feels like it takes several minutes to play, I have no idea, I haven’t timed it. But I am so aware as I’m playing of what’s coming next while simultaneously concentrating on what I am playing in the moment – it’s mind-boggling. I will be glad when my muscle memory completely takes over. I love playing Bach, I find his music so organic – but he really outdid himself with this suite.

Winter Solstice – Before and After

Winter doldrums… Most of these photographs – at least most of the ones with birds in them – are from December 10 on one of my more regular visits to Riverside. There were still passerines to be seen, even if they all fell into the predictable variety. The deep-seated cold had not yet found its way to us. So maybe December looks a little bit better than January…

By an offer of little contrast, for instance, below is a scene of the Des Plaines River on December 10, with the water still open, and below it, one from January 19, which was my last visit – with a lot of ice.

Here is likely the last Hairy Woodpecker I saw, in December.

I haven’t seen the Red-bellied Woodpeckers lately either, although I have heard them on occasion. In the gallery below this photo, the somewhat strange-looking backside photo of the woodpecker flying away at least shows off a red belly, so to speak.

American Robins are around all winter, but I don’t always see them.

Northern Flickers are around in winter too, but even more scarce.

Northern Cardinals are even lying low in the colder weather. The second photo was more recent, and the bird was much farther away.

It was still possible to see flocks of Rock Pigeons flying in December, but no more.

Even the little “snow” birds, Dark-eyed Juncos, are less visible lately. It was unusual to have the second bird sit in one place for three photos.

Black-capped Chickadees are hiding.

One very cold-looking Northern Cardinal

Mallards in December sunshine… and January freeze

Trail time before and after snow and ice…

A splatter of lichen

I always like seeing the Hofmann Tower on my way back.

I managed to photograph the two Mourning Doves on my last visit when we caught each other somewhat off guard. Only a couple months ago, I was seeing eight Mourning Doves. I hope these are not the only two left.

Today we have had lots of fluffy, white snow to deal with. It’s not a deluge but the total accumulation might be around 6 or 7 inches, I shoveled my walk and some of my neighbors’ early this morning in time for the few parents and kids who walk to the elementary school down the block. We got another inch or so after that. At least it’s not blowing around. Next up, we dive into the deep freeze, which will probably postpone my walks for yet another few days. So I will be returning to this space with more from past ventures.

Here’s a few more scenes around Riverside Lawn before the deep freeze.

The First Thaw

I was almost going to revert back to sunnier and greener times – and I probably will in the next post – but it occurred to me that in the middle of summer, no matter how unbearably hot it gets, I won’t be going back to any cold, grey, icy scenes as something to look forward to, so I may as well organize a more recent outing here.

I went out yesterday morning to Riverside, where I hadn’t been since the end of December. The forecast was cloudy but warmer – and anything warmer than the 5 to 10-below wind chills sounded possible to me. Still I decided to carry the little mirrorless camera so my agility negotiating icy spots would not be compromised. I was sure there would be plenty of ice but at least there are no hills to navigate on the Riverside trail, unlike the Portage. Below is what the river looked like going over the Joliet Avenue bridge.

There was open water here, which was not always the case farther down the river. As I walked across the bridge I thought of the Yellow-rumped Warbler I saw close to the bridge back on December 22nd.

I started down the paved path, and I began to see some ducks in the water – but I was hearing an insistent little ticking call behind me. I turned around, and the Yellow-rumped Warbler was up in a tree telling me it was still here. I am glad I managed to get a photograph of it.

I don’t know exactly what it is, it’s probably a combination of things, but I think a point of mutual exchange occurs with birds sometimes that is plainly a result of my paying attention. This was not a “coincidence” but rather, the Yellow-rumped Warbler was responding to my thought about it. I remember a dear former boyfriend who was an electrical engineer, who used to say “thoughts are things.” Indeed they are.

I am also reminded of some lyrics from one of my favorite Peter Mayer songs, “World of Dreams”:

“In the smallest measure of anything at hand
Entities of energy are alive in a whirling dance
Even our own bodies are not as we perceive
But made of the same stuff our thoughts are made
In this world of dreams
So do we live and move amidst illusions?
Has what we’re seeing fooled us
And only exists in our minds?
And what are we to do with such conclusions?
For what cannot come true in a world of a
Mystical kind?”

Anyway, this encounter with the Yellow-rumped Warbler was special. It was encouraging to know it had survived the awful cold. I was beginning to wonder how much more cold I could take. Yesterday was the first day I managed without long underwear.

There were perhaps 50 Mallards total – where two weeks before there had been a couple hundred Canada Geese. There were no geese in the water yesterday. But there were diving ducks, which I had never seen at this point in the river before. Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneye.

It was gloomy all morning. The sun kept trying to get through the clouds but it didn’t happen.

Here’s how the river looked closer to the foot bridge.

And the foot bridge itself.

The closer I got to the ice, the more serious it looked.

But at least the foot bridge had a railing, and I was able to grasp the suspender cable at the end to go downhill toward the foot trail, which was a lot safer.

Not knowing what kind of pictures I could get of birds with that camera under these conditions, I just tried when I could, and got lucky with the one cardinal at the top of the post – they have been difficult subjects lately – and a few mixed results otherwise. There weren’t a lot of birds out. And yet I managed to report 16 species.

A Downy Woodpecker and a Dark-eyed Junco

And yes, another Brown Creeper. I’m just amazed the little camera did such a good job.

Not much else from yesterday – just snowy ice and predictable gloom. The temperatures rose quite a bit by the afternoon. Today was supposed to be cloudy and I started cursing the sun when it came out because I only had plans to go grocery shopping. But I decided to make more oatmeal cookies before I went out. I’ve been hooked on these lately – I’ve been making them with yogurt instead of milk and they’re not too sweet, just full of oats and raisins.

The last cookie – and the new batch for future consumptions…

May as well go out with the same color as the beginning. I will be back shortly with greens.

A Look Back at More Riverside Wildlife

On November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, I got photographs of a buck on the Riverside Lawn side of the Des Plaines River. He was close to the path. This might have been the last time I saw any deer, they seem to have gone elsewhere since.

On that same visit, I saw part of a creature asleep in a tree cavity, but I have no idea what it was. I have since tried to find the tree again but haven’t managed to. Brightening up the photo on the left didn’t help much.

Other than that and a very grey-looking day, the birds were the usual variety. I could expect to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

A Downy Woodpecker and a Northern Cardinal managed to make it into the same photograph before I moved to get an unobstructed view of the Cardinal.

It seems I barely captured the Black-capped Chickadee below.

The sky had its dramatic moments.

A distant Red-tailed Hawk below…

Invariably there have been Mallards in the river somewhere. And Canada Geese.

The spareness of the trees imparts a different architecture…

I have been busy baking the annual Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin loaves for distribution. They have all found homes.

A few of my birds in relaxed moments…

I keep trying to imagine a visit to the lakefront. I haven’t been down to see it for two years, now. I keep telling myself once I go down it will all seem familiar again and I will feel safe. Might be a destination for New Year’s Day. We shall see.

For what it’s worth, I probably spent an hour this morning in between the stages of making yogurt, reading Dave Barry’s 2021 Year in Review (which appeared in The Washington Post and apparently several other publications) and I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. It could be just me not having a TV and its comedy shows. But I’d like to think this is my reward for surviving 2021. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already. A little humor goes a long way these days.

Riverside Wildlife

I encounter a suitable number of people walking their dogs on the Riverside trails and lately the dogs have drawn my attention to other wildlife through their people. Last week I met a woman whose dog seemed interested in something off the path … which turned out to be the beaver below. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a clearer shot but it was wonderful to see.

Before that on November 29 which I think might have been the first time I took the mirrorless camera with me, I noticed a man standing with his two dogs on the foot bridge, looking at something. It turned out to be a relaxed Coyote lolling on what is a temporary beach on the other side of the river.

That cloudy morning at the end of November made for a beautiful sunrise, such as I saw it far away from the lake over the tops of houses.

I have seen this Eastern Bluebird a few times, just off the paved path, and managed some photos on the 29th (first below) and then again in better light with the old Canon lens last week (second group below). Either way, I have been excited to see this bird so often, gives me hope to see more in the spring.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler and the Eastern Bluebird

Those indefatigable Mallards make excellent use of the low water levels in the river.

Along with the photograph at the top of the post, here are some more of the two Downy Woodpeckers I encountered on December 8 as they were foraging peacefully together and then not so peacefully.

Fungus, unusual tree bark and uprooted trees intrigue me.

Another one of those ground-feeding Dark-eyed Juncos.

It was still quite chilly on the 8th, enough for some small ice formations in the river.

A Downy Woodpecker and a Fox Squirrel from 11-29.

A female Northern Cardinal, fluffed up against the cold.

A barely visible White-breasted Nuthatch…

Hofmann Tower through the trees…

As luck would have it, I am stuck inside on this beautiful Sunday morning when I had intended to go out for an early walk, but because my repaired lens is on a FedEx truck somewhere “out for delivery” I have to sit here and wait for its arrival “by end of day.” After all this, I don’t dare take the chance to sign indirectly for it and have it left on the front porch.

Yesterday I was going to have my trees trimmed, but due to gale force winds of 45-50 mph which kept knocking over one of my empty rain barrels even though I had put several weights on top of it to keep it stable, the tree trimming has been postponed until tomorrow morning, so that will be one more good birding morning spent inside. You are right to question why I am writing about this when I could be having Real Problems.

It will be great to get my many trees trimmed after I put it off for so long, they need it badly. And as I sit here hanging out with my indoor crowd, I’m thinking I have a lot to be thankful for and a couple days missed in the wilds of suburbia are not forever. … By now you are probably praying for me to go back out and take enough pictures to keep me silently slaving over them. I hope you are safe and well, wherever you are, and cheerfully caught up in holiday distractions.