Going the Distance

It’s a slow, steady drip as the bucket of What Next is filling rapidly and seems about to overflow. I keep falling back into the grounding exercises that keep me going. Bake a loaf of bread. Go for a walk in the woods. Chocolate-covered almonds.

I voted yesterday morning. I wonder now if it was worth the effort. After cutting my little voter ID card out of the flyer I received in the mail weeks ago, I walked around the block to the elementary school entrance where the polls were open. The voter ID was identical to the two older ones that were still living in my wallet, but I wanted to make everything as easy as possible for the over-taxed election officials. I have voted in every election since I moved here 19 years ago. But yesterday, I could not be found in the system. I had to re-register. When I did finally get my paper ballot, which was what I preferred anyway over the new voting machines that weren’t working, my ballot could not be scanned until some future time when the scanner would be operating. I hope things improved after I left and went into the office for the last time until further notice. I worked a full day and came home to my birds and to ponder my newly-enforced remote existence.

These photographs are from Sunday. The morning was cloudy so I spent some time in the yard trying to get pictures of my most frequent visitors. The Goldfinches are still dominating the action. I estimated there were perhaps forty or more of them, outnumbering the House Sparrows. That’s a thing.

The afternoon promised sunshine so I decided to check McGinnis Slough. As usual, most of the birds were waterfowl way beyond my ability to distinguish them, and I had not felt like taking my scope. There were pitifully few passerines. In fact, I did not see or hear one Red-Winged Blackbird, which seems very odd, especially after having them at the Portage last week.

There were a lot of Northern Shovelers, and I managed to get one in flight early on. Beyond that, the only “near” bird that stood out was a Blue-Winged Teal.

Rain is in the forecast for today, tomorrow and Friday. So I will definitely have to go out this weekend. The gym was officially closed for business yesterday, so I can’t swim. I am going to try to work from home, which is something I never did very often to begin with. But all connection now will be over the Internet entirely, save for the very few times I may have to go out and buy something. I have enough food for myself to likely last a year. (As for toilet paper, I ordered a case of bamboo toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap months ago and just opened it recently. I am not in the habit of giving plugs to anybody but they seem to be a worthwhile organization, donating a portion of their profits to providing sanitation facilities in underdeveloped areas of the world. Unfortunately if you are so tempted, they are out of stock as well, I just checked.) If I need to buy anything, it will be food for the birds that will dictate my immediate spending habits.

The weekend provided a little entertainment indoors. My Zebra Finches found interest in my socks, and I started to build a little musical interlude with Dudlee’s cooing for inspiration.

Here are a few more pictures from Sunday’s yard. I’m getting restless to start cleaning it up but we still have the possibility of frost. However, I suspect projects will develop with the enduring isolation. Beyond music and other indoor diversions, I need exercise and I need to go outside. Plain and simple. I’ll likely visit the Portage a lot more these next few weeks, to monitor the beginnings of Spring Migration.

Scruffy-looking male American Goldfinches are molting away into their breeding plumage.

I hope you are all safe and well and finding some solace in the extra peace and quiet that is inevitable with sequestration. I also hope your connections with loved ones are substantial and enduring. We can all discover a lot more about ourselves when we’re tested like this. Let’s look for a silver lining somewhere in all of this and the world comes together for the common good.

Spring Fever on Hold

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see Red-Winged Blackbirds arrive at the Portage and start singing. It’s likely an intense desire to embrace any sense of Normal.

All these photos are from a quick trip to the Chicago Portage last Sunday morning, after the clocks were set ahead. There were not a lot of birds, but I managed to capture a few.

I’m happy to see the Robins returning too. The anticipation of spring is palpable. Now, if I can just get over the time change. It’s hard to get up in the morning, in the dark. Even harder perhaps knowing that nearly everything has been put on hold for voluntary, and increasingly involuntary, “self-distancing.”

After a fairly well-attended choir rehearsal on Wednesday, we received notice yesterday that the temple will be closed for the next four weeks, which totally puts on hold our entire schedule. We were to sing on Sunday and prepare for our special Choir Sunday on the 29th, but that’s not going to happen. No rehearsal, no services. We will stay tuned, but I know without rehearsal, it will be harder to hold those notes when we resume.

I managed to capture this Rusty Blackbird flying in with the Red-Wingeds, likely on his way north.

Even European Starlings are returning. They used to be present year-round but in the last few years I’ve missed their presence in the dead of winter.

There are always Downy Woodpeckers, though I might not always see them.

Same goes for the Black-capped Chickadees. It was chilly and windy but the days are getting longer and the birds have their work ahead of them.

Flyovers included a singular Ring-Billed Gull and One American Crow. I suppose Crows are a reminder of what happens if you don’t “self-distance”, as in the spread of West Nile Virus.

On the trail that runs behind the opening in the fence and runs parallel to the Des Plaines River, I witnessed a flurry of White-Breasted Nuthatch activity with what appeared to be one male and two females.

I missed any opportunity to snatch the last Super Moon because it was pouring rain on Monday night, but here’s a glimpse of what it looked like back home after swimming on Tuesday.

One more of this buff blackbird.

The extra time to lay low has given me an absurd sense of precarious calm, in that, I suppose, it takes a little pressure off the time crunch that normally accompanies my daily routine, even if it adds a new, rapidly-changing stress. Suddenly all the solo activities that I squeeze into tiny time fragments are clamoring for attention. Among them are playing more music, processing more pictures and writing more blog posts… There’s a desire to commence spring cleanup too. The challenge will be to stay awake. If I’m at home and sitting on the futon with my laptop, naptime is a real threat.

I hope for your wellness and safety, wherever you are. As much as we must distance ourselves physically, we need to come together in spirit all the more.

A Philadelphia Vireo

We must have been right in the migratory path for these birds, because I can’t remember ever seeing them before, but this spring I got to photograph two individuals. This short post is a tribute to a special encounter I had with this one Philadelphia Vireo at the Portage on May 27.

There’s nothing flashy about this bird, and observing a gray bird so closely on a rather gray-sky day was totally unexpected. I just stood and photographed this beautiful creature while it gleaned what I can only imagine were infinitesimal insects caught in what might appeared to be some web filament.

So if you ever get this good a look at a vireo, you can always confirm the genus because they all have blue feet!

I will be back with a more traditional post soon. I just wanted to devote an entire page to these pictures because the encounter was so special. A bird I was barely familiar with gave me an entire tutorial about its habits and appearance in the space of maybe five minutes. I am forever grateful.

May Migration Memories

Canada Warbler (female)

It’s hard to believe but spring passerine migration has come and gone again. I never made it to the lakefront, where I’m sure most of the migrants coming through the city were. The trees in the park near my office were late in leafing out, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see any warblers, and then, the last two days of May, there were a few pretty birds in that last push.

I took all these photographs trying out my new mirrorless camera. The purchase was inspired by the fact that one guide and one participant were using the Sony RX10 on the Texas trip, so I took that fact alone as a recommendation. I really haven’t had time to investigate all the features, but it’s more compact and easier to carry than my Canon 70D with the 300mm lens attached, so I have this now for situations when I don’t want to carry quite as much gear.

Eastern Towhee

After all the Hermit Thrushes that were in the park weeks before (not as many as last year, but I think I got pictures with the other camera…), I was surprised to see this Wood Thrush on May 30, after I had gone back to try to get a picture of the Eastern Towhee above who showed up on May 29 but eluded my efforts.

White-throated Sparrows were more prevalent in April – they seem to be all gone now

More shots of the Canada Warbler. She was in the park for two days. I often think that someone should name shades of yellow after particular warblers, but the steel-blue gray back of a Canada Warbler always stands out for me.

I adore Wilson’s Warblers – because they tend to move more slowly and deliberately in the trees! And I recognize Wilson’s Yellow, which is a good thing because I don’t always get to see that trademark skullcap.

It was especially challenging to get a photograph of this male Mourning Warbler. Usually they are closer to the ground, but this guy was up in the trees after their burst of foliage attracted just the bugs or worms he was looking for.

Mourning Warbler

Was surprised to see this flycatcher on May 30. Even more surprised to get a picture of it.

One of the last Ovenbirds – they were on the ground in the park for at least two weeks before the end of May

I don’t expect to see much along the Chicago River in the next month or two, save a Ring-Billed Gull or Herring Gull, or the occasional Mallard. Every once in a while there is a Black-Crowned Night-Heron making its way slowly along the river. But birds move and there’s always the possibility of a surprise somewhere.

I have many pictures I want to share from several Portage visits, and of course I will get back to the Texas adventure as soon as possible. Looking for more space in my non-blogging life. Survived the annual choir appreciation dinner and talent show Wednesday — the offerings from the choir members were outstanding and seem to get better and more varied every year. The “survival” part was debuting a flute-and-piano piece with my flutist extraordinaire friend Linda Rios, based on a melody I had written 50 (?) years ago to the lyrics of a Robert Frost poem, “The Vindictives.” Which has led me back to Frost and poetry in general. Looking for my next melody to show up sooner than another 50 years …And I hope to be back to this page soon!

Portage Promise

Never knowing what to expect but full of expectation is how I approach the Portage on a regular basis. So arriving late last Saturday morning was bound to be a mixed bag. I stopped on the bridge to talk with another birder I’ve run into lately there, and snapped the photograph of the female Baltimore Oriole below. And then as I started to walk, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t have time to capture it the first time but it came back and so the image above.

Baltimore Oriole (female)

As usual there were more birds heard than seen at this hour but I was content to see what I did. Indigo Buntings are still evading the lens, but I will have many more opportunities to endure their frustrating behavior.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are abundant and usually hard to spot, but I found this busy nesting pair.

Tree Swallows used to nest here…this one looks like he’s thinking about it.

Tree Swallow

Warbling Vireos…I always hear several of them, but they are normally very hard to see. However this one was singing and perched at a comfortable height for me to capture him.

This is the time of year when dandelions get a bad rap, but I found it interesting to see a Song Sparrow eating the seeds before they had a chance to disburse. So there, I have proof that dandelions aren’t just attractive to pollinators but they are also a source of food for birds, and of course humans. We may need them some day!

One of the two Green Herons was hunting. At one point it took off across the water and caused a sunning turtle to slide off its stump. There were a lot of turtles out. Click on the images below and you can see what I mean.

A few more pictures of Portage breeders… I’m leading one more walk tomorrow morning as an auction donation to Unity Temple and the forecast is for thunderstorms. But the weather changes every few minutes. We had the same forecast for this morning and except for a few thunderclaps around 6:15 a.m. and a little rain, now it is cloudy but clear. I am hoping for the same sort of cooperation tomorrow, it will make dealing with the muddy spots a lot easier.

Red-winged Blackbird (female)
American Goldfinch (female)

It’s been a great year so far for robins taking advantage of all the earthworms the rain has stirred up.

Even with all the rain it’s still better to be outside!

On-Again-Spring Migration

Female Mourning Warbler, Columbus Park

As we climb back out of yet another spell of wintry, inclement weather, I have to wonder what effect this fitful spring is having on the migrants we are all too happy to observe. I have had a Swainson’s Thrush in my yard the last two days. I’m happy to provide for this bird and maybe it doesn’t have too much farther to go to get to its breeding grounds, but likely it will be dodging more storms on its way.

Last Saturday I attended a small informal walk at Columbus Park and then went to the Portage. Sunday birding was off the table, as I committed to choir-singing all day. Here it is Wednesday: I just finished going through these pictures last night. I will be leading one more walk this Saturday at the Portage if the current “morning thunderstorms” forecast does not pan out. It’s ever crazier to be paying attention to the forecast when it changes every five minutes, but I can’t help it.

Black-crowned Night-Heron, Columbus Park

It’s always nice to see the herons at this location. My list of species totaled 32 which is not spectacular but it was great to have sunshine which the birds were enjoying too. I’ll do a separate post about the Portage later.

Red-winged Blackbird

This is the first time I’ve seen Wood Ducks hanging out on the lawn…but the Mallard was quite comfortably snoozing.

There are two Spotted Sandpipers in the photograph below the ducks, but the second one is a bit harder to see…

Spotted Sandpipers

I found the Philadelphia Vireo in my photographs last night. A surprise to me as I don’t think I’ve ever taken a picture of one before.

One more of the Mourning Warbler…

So this is the time of year when I have more photographs than I have time to post… Looking forward to the holiday weekend and hoping it’s not raining too much so I can get a handle on the rapidly increasing jungle that is my yard and maybe see some more birds.

Spring Returns

Black-throated Green Warbler

When I came back from Texas two weeks ago, the weather in Chicago was fairly pleasant and I mused I could have two springs! No matter that the Saturday before I got home there was snow on the ground. But just as we slipped into May, when it seemed reasonable to expect things would start warming up a bit, northeast winds picked up and although we weren’t freezing, the windchills were in the 30’s. It’s an understatement to say there has been a lot of rain. The downpours have brought most of the trees into leaf and encouraging emerging plant life everywhere. Then, this past Thursday morning, a lot of migrant birds were down from the skies from the previous evening’s rainstorm.

I’m too far away from the lakefront now to go off searching for rarities on my lunch hour, but I took Friday off so that I could scope out the Portage before my bird walk on Saturday. It turned out to be the nicest day of my three-day weekend. Although it started off chilly and windy, when the sun emerged a little before 10:00 AM all was forgiven.

Magnolia Warbler

I just finished getting through Friday’s pictures last night – it seemed there were way too many, but I discovered three more species in them to add to the list with a grand total of 54 species, 13 of them warblers. Which isn’t super fantastic but it’s credible for the Portage.

As for the Texas pictures, I managed to send some to Field Guides Saturday night and now with that off my plate I can go back through all of them and start developing for my own purposes. Time, technology and energy being available in inconsistent quantities, this will take me a while.

So in the meantime, here are some of the spring migrants from my walk on Friday, and there will likely be some more from this visit and Saturday’s outing as I try to keep up with everything that seems to be happening this month.

American Redstart
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) (robber baron pose)

This is all I can manage for now. I hope to report back soon with lots more!

Black-throated Green Warbler