Spring Arrivals in Riverside

After a lot of rain, we have settled into a warm, dry spell. Now we are under a “fire weather watch” as strong winds will accompany the high temperatures and lack of humidity.

These photos are from three visits to Riverside within the last week and a half. Perhaps most unusual was seeing this very early Palm Warbler as it was rare for last Friday’s date.

On a gloomy and likely chillier visit about a week before, I saw a Rusty Blackbird, which was not rare but a less-common occurrence for me.

And on the same day the footbridge was closed for painting, so I could not proceed on my usual loop.

Conditions were good for the American Robins with all the rain.

As far as I could go one-way into Riverside Lawn, the flooding in parts of the trail was more than I wanted to deal with anyway.

I have still seen a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the river as late as yesterday. I managed to get close enough last Friday for a decent photo of the male.

Blue Jays are usually heard but not seen so when this one volunteered, I complied.

Friday was sunny. I liked this White-breasted Nuthatch’s choice of wood.

And Friday was the first – and so far only – time this spring that I have seen a Great Blue Heron in the river. The water has been rather deep and the current strong, making it harder for a heron to hunt.

More progress has been made on the bridge painting, I guess.

No sign of the water receding any time soon on the trail. Although I suspect with the hot, dry weather we have now, most of it will be gone by tomorrow.

In the hollow of that big, fallen log I noticed a dead raccoon a couple weeks ago. It is still there.

Friday was a good day for Golden-crowned Kinglets. This one was in low enough branches to visit with.

I have seen a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, although they haven’t been particularly easy to capture yet. I’m confident that will change soon.

This Red-winged Blackbird is definitely accustomed to suburbia.

Back in Riverside Monday morning, on my way in, I met a Chipmunk. On my way out I encountered two Hermit Thrushes.

Beyond that, I had a somewhat cooperative Northern Cardinal, and a singing Song Sparrow. The Song Sparrow wasn’t all that visible, but I decided to see if I could capture him singing with the video switch on my camera, in spite of the fact that hand-holding heavy lenses is not a logical way to go about making videos. The audio is quite clear, however, so I am including it.

I will try to be back sooner, because every day there’s a new bird or two and pretty soon I will be really struggling to keep up with it. Much more to come. Happy Spring.

On and About the River

It’s been a slow week or two out on the trails but every once in a while there’s a surprise. Such was the morning of February 6 when shortly after I started walking the paved trail by the Des Plaines River in Riverside, I saw a young-looking Pied-billed Grebe sitting in the water by the near shore with a couple Mallards. Even though there was vegetation in the way of my lens, it occurred to me when I later looked at these photos that I don’t think I have ever been this close to a Pied-billed Grebe.

There wasn’t much else to get excited about that day or on two subsequent visits but what I did manage to capture is represented here.

I saw our friend 64H by the Hofmann dam with a female companion, perhaps

It was a nice, sunny day for Mallards.

A look at some of the ice – slowly melting.

On the other side of the foot bridge I barely managed to capture the Redhead which was still present and a male Red-breasted Merganser.

On February 8, there was still a plenty of ice and it was gloomier. A Common Goldeneye was fishing.

I was a bit surprised to see this Mourning Dove sitting on a low branch over the ice in the river.

When I returned on February 10, the most notable thing was the sunshine.

Now the pair of Red-breasted Mergansers were quite cuddly in the water.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker showed up briefly to emphasize the blue sky and buds on the tree it was visiting.

I have been to the Chicago Portage off and on and there are a few photos there for another post perhaps. I took a couple more distant jaunts the past two weekends just to get out of my rut, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot happening anywhere lately. But with the increased daylight, birds are singing. In addition to the Northern Cardinals, the Red-bellied Woodpeckers have started to sing. And Red-winged Blackbirds are also returning to their territories. Spring is a promise.

River of Geese

Prior to the Deep Freeze of the last few days, my three most recent visits to Riverside were full of Canada Geese in the Des Plaines River, some of them tagged. I would have gone back on Friday in spite of the sub-zero windchill except for staying home waiting for a plumber to assess a more permanent solution to a clogged kitchen sink. I am now looking forward to that repair Monday morning.

January 27 was cloudy. The river was a gathering place for a couple hundred Canada Geese. It was among a group not far from the paved path that I saw 68B. The interesting thing about this bird is that I reported seeing her way back in September of 2014. She hatched in 2013 or earlier and was banded on July 16, 2014 near Brookfield in Cook County, which is the same location for banding of all the other geese I have reported. They have been pretty faithful to their original banded location. I saw this bird at the Chicago Portage, which is part of the same ecosystem.

A cold, gloomy view of the Des Plaines River

68B is in the third photo below.

To break up the goose monotony, I was entertained by an engaging Black-capped Chickadee. You may note that it has the same color scheme as the Canada Geese,

Then on January 30, there were two new numbers to report. 54H is a female banded in July of 2015.

And 26N is a male banded in July of 2016.

January 30 was cold and gloomy. This little group of geese was south of the Joliet Avenue bridge.

Other waterfowl included two male Common Goldeneyes and a pair of Common Mergansers.

The largest gaggle of geese was near the footbridge, as usual.

On February 1, 54H and 26N were in the group below near the Hofmann Tower.

A small gaggle of geese near the paved path in Riverside

There have been only a smattering of Mallards in the river.

This White-breasted Nuthatch had the courage to appear by himself instead of in tandem with a Red-bellied Woodpecker, which is how I have been seeing them lately.

Then, just on the other side of the footbridge, I saw a Redhead. Chris, who I see frequently walking his dog Isabel, had just said a little while ago that he hadn’t seen a Redhead. I concurred that I had not either. And then here was one. What a beautiful surprise. When I saw Chris later we both laughed, as he had seen it too.

Beyond that, likely the same two male Common Goldeneyes I have seen before. I haven’t seen the ladies lately.

And there were no more land birds to photograph that day, but I captured a sneaky look at my first Chipmunk of the year.

And just to confirm, the Hofmann Tower pigeons were in place.

One more of the Downy Woodpecker that is at the top of this post.

I have been to the Chicago Portage a couple times during the cold spell that followed and as far as I could tell, the Des Plaines River was likely frozen over, which doesn’t mean the geese weren’t sitting on the ice, but I suspect that maybe I wasn’t missing too much by not visiting Riverside. I will see if I can make a quick stop there tomorrow after my kitchen sink redemption.

With a little luck, I will be back before that with a little birds-at-home update. In the meantime, the sun is shining, the snow is melting, and it appears we are out of the woods, so to speak, for subzero or even single-digit temperatures. But I still have the memory of below-zero in my bones, which makes it that much more delightful to soak up the sun.

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.

A Downy Woodpecker was present.

For comparison, I was also lucky to see a Hairy Woodpecker.

A couple incidental photos from Riverside Lawn…I think before I sat down on the log.

Some tree fungus
Northern Cardinal male

While I sat on the log, the Winter Wren came in and was so close I could not photograph it with my big lens. Below is the only image of the Winter Wren I managed to capture on Monday.

But soon after that, a Carolina Wren arrived and perched on a stump a short distance directly in front of me and I complied with its request to be photographed. It’s also at the top of the post.

There were also a couple White-breasted Nuthatches not too far away. Directly below is a male, and the bird in the gallery beneath it is a female.

This is the time of year when Red-bellied Woodpeckers stand out against the drab, leafless trees. And this one was no exception.

Sometimes I manage to focus on a busy Black-capped Chickadee.

More snaps of the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I have managed to find a way to walk around the new obstacle although I am not sure how easy it will be later, in snow and ice.

The most astounding thing Monday occurred hours later on my way home from the pool. I was approaching a busy intersection at 37th and Harlem when I saw a Bald Eagle rise up from behind a strip mall and fly right over my car, and then there was a smaller raptor chasing after it. I suspect they both may have been attracted to some prey which I never saw. I got through the intersection, pulled into a gas station and pulled out the camera.

The smaller raptor turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon. The two birds chased around for what seemed like a few minutes, and then the Bald Eagle eventually headed south, after the Peregrine gave up the chase and sat on top of a utility pole. It’s something to consider, that both these species were endangered not all that long ago and now there are enough of them to spill over into the suburban sprawl.