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.

Spring Rolls Out Slowly

It’s been a weird week and a half. I have gone for walks off and on, weather has been iffy at best. More threat than actual thunder. This will be a little bit of a catch-up post, but I can’t promise any focus or real theme as my life for the moment is taken up with the choir’s imminent performance for our Choir Sunday.

I won’t get into any details, but I have been immersed in the story behind the story upon which Considering Matthew Shepard, by Craig Hella Johnson, is based. The oratorio not only tells a story but reflects upon the idea of story telling as central to our lives. We had an electrifying dress rehearsal with the soloists and chamber orchestra Sunday night. The choir has one last rehearsal tonight to smooth over the rough edges before the performance.

Back to the birds. Two Sundays ago now, I decided to visit the zoo, to see if there were any interesting ducks in the man-made lake. It was a cold day, but sunny. And the first bird I noticed was a tagged Canada Goose with whom I am not familiar. I haven’t filed a report – yet – for H60.

Walking the trail around “Swan Lake,” I encountered a few curious White-breasted Nuthatches.

Black-capped Chickadees were not far behind.

There were only two ducks in the water – and they weren’t Mallards. But they were so far away it was hard to get good images of them. They were Ring-necked Ducks.

American Robins are everywhere again, but they only started singing a couple days ago.

Four rescued American Pelicans were hanging out near another water feature.

I was in Riverside the next morning. There was even less going on there.

I managed to see one male Red-breasted Merganser in the Des Plaines River.

Then I went to the Portage on the 21st. A couple first-of-year birds for me: a Turkey Vulture, and two Brown-headed Cowbirds.

I spent the 22nd at home and tried to get a few photos of birds in the yard. It never goes well through the back porch windows. But I have more American Goldfinches in the yard now than I have had all winter. And they are starting to transform.

I spent a while with the Song Sparrow who’s been happy to hang out in the yard lately.

A few other likely characters showed up.

A Gray Squirrel enjoying a likely peanut
Ring-billed Gulls are coming back to the burbs

Just one Mourning Dove posed, but I caught a glimpse of a Eurasian Collared Dove as it flew in and landed in a tree. Years ago I used to have a pair that visited the yard quite often. I have been looking for them ever since.

The light was too poor to capture these birds well. But it was still nice to be outside altogether.

I have more dribs and drabs to report, but it will be a busy remainder of the week. Still I’ll try to come up for air a little sooner. It does look like April will be starting right off the bat with showers and more. I hope I can get the rain barrels installed and start capturing the gallons.


After a beautiful but somewhat uneventful morning walk in Riverside, I went swimming. By the time I got to the gym, the temperature was probably around 54 degrees F. I had a good swim, walked out to my car and heard Sandhill Cranes. I have heard Sandhills but not seen them the last few days. This time, I looked up, and saw about 30 flying northwest, but they were too far away to photograph. Or so I thought. I took out my camera anyway, and then as if on cue, more cranes kept coming. They dropped their elevation and swirled around in a kettle, joining each other with exuberance. I couldn’t help but feel it was just for me. I kept looking around for someone to share the glorious experience, but there was no one to witness this moment but me. I tried to capture it best I could.

Below is a Very Short Video I took with my phone which at least gives you a glimpse – and a little soundtrack.

And here are some of the many photos I took of various groups and configurations.

It occurred to me that the Sandhills were dancing in the air, their choreography as precise as when they perform their courtship dances on the ground.

I’ll be back with some of Riverside later, but I just had to share this now. Birders on the Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts (IBET) list serve have been posting about Sandhills for the last few days. If you’re in the Chicago area and outside between 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM you just might get lucky and hear and see some of this spectacle.

Before the Leaves

April was cold and rainy, to the best of my recollection. But there were a few bright spots. On April 9, I heard a sound I couldn’t place, until I realized I had just not heard it for a long time. A Monk Parakeet was staring down at me from its perch at the Chicago Portage.

These birds used to visit my feeders years ago after I moved into my house, but when their nearby nest in a cellphone tower was removed, they disappeared. There must be another colony nest somewhere in the general area. This is the first time I have seen a Monk Parakeet at the Portage. Below are two recordings. First, the call I heard, and then, the second recording is almost like a little song he’s singing.

That was a sunny day with a clear, blue sky. Ten days later at the Portage it was quite overcast and the earliest migrants were appearing. Red-winged Blackbirds are always first heard and seen.

Brown-headed Cowbirds came in with the Red-winged Blackbirds.

Song Sparrow

Blue-winged Teal were around for weeks.

Kinglets were among the first insect-eaters to come through, with Golden-crowned Kinglets outnumbering the Ruby-crowneds.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglets below.

There were several very young deer.

Somehow the cloudy sky over the naked trees seemed worth noting.

Here’s one last photo of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

I have been birding lately and will be back with some reports eventually. I had planned to stay in today due to the forecast of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but because I could not swim last night due to a tornado-force storm that moved through the area around 7:00 PM, I did not go swimming and decided to swim this morning instead. All my trees are standing, and miraculously I suffered no damage save a few shingles on my roof: I filed a claim with the insurance this morning. As it turned out there was a massive power outage close to us which my neighborhood escaped, but the gym closed early because of it last night and then as I drove there and back this morning, every other traffic light was out and some were not even flashing which made it even more difficult and dangerous. There were crews everywhere working on power lines, but the damage must be extensive. Since tomorrow’s forecast isn’t any better. I will choose to stay safe and inside for the most part.

These weather events are now so predictably unpredictable. The original forecast for rain and storms vanished earlier in the day from the weather app on my phone to predict clear and sunny in the afternoon and evening, until suddenly the National Weather Service was blasting alerts on the radio about a tornado warning which then turned into a tornado watch. My birds always complain collectively when they hear the test of the alarm system as it happens once a week or so, but after so many alerts last night they finally gave up on their comments.

More and More Still

Spring passerine migration may be over, but I still have a lot of photographs left so maybe we can hang on to the memory of it a little while longer.

These are all from the Chicago Portage on May 12. I wonder if any of these Bay-breasted Warblers were the same individuals who looked quite different in the fall.

It was definitely nice to see them so well in their spring feathers.

Female Bay-breasted Warbler

There didn’t seem to be as many Black-throated Green Warblers as there were in the fall. But they are always special for me. They pose nicely, for example.

On the other hand, Chestnut-sided Warblers were early and everywhere.

I don’t want to take Yellow Warblers for granted, even though a few individuals remain at the Portage all summer. They are still lovely.

All it would have taken was a few more leaves and I would not have these photographs.

I got lucky with an action shot.

Below is a Veery. I’ve included the long view which shows how I first focused on the bird from afar. This is a less-often-seen thrush species so I was very happy to find it.

I probably took too many photographs of the male Eastern Bluebird but I am always so delighted to see him. I haven’t seen him in over a week, so I hope he is just busy but still on site.

The female Blue Grosbeak below turned out to be rare for this date. A week later, the same bird was no longer considered unusual. I sure would like to see a male here. It’s been a few years.

I don’t think I will ever get enough of Magnolia Warblers.

The bird below had me stumped – for a while. I determined it had to be a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. I later checked my bound copy of The Warbler Guide and sure enough, I was correct. Since I didn’t have a complete side view, it was a bit difficult, but her face spoke to me.

Baltimore Orioles are still around and will be all summer. This looks like a younger bird perhaps.

First-year male American Redstarts can be confused with females…

There was a Green Heron in flight that day.

Indigo Buntings are here to stay for the summer. I won’t get tired of them either.

Here’s how the Portage looked on that day. Now you can barely see the bridge through the growth.

I suspect there’s a lot more mossy stuff going on way off trail. I zoomed in on this with the telephoto lens.

There are a lot of Brown-headed Cowbirds at the Portage this spring. I usually see gangs of males following one or two females. This girl was on her own.

One more of the muted-looking Baltimore Oriole. I will be back with many more birds – now that I have a little more wiggle room on the laptop. Tonight I am happy to be attending the end-of-season choir party. I really missed singing a couple weeks ago for our last service, but it will be good to see everybody again before the summer break. We will return to rehearsals in mid-August. Wow, it’s June already.

Beauty Beyond Warblers

The big push of migrants that began a couple weeks ago just as the leaves were finally starting to emerge on the trees brought some lovely birds to the Chicago Portage along with the anticipated warblers. These photographs are mostly selected from May 9 and May 12 visits.

There’s nothing quite like the sight of a Scarlet Tanager. Below are photos of both sexes.

The trees were still just beginning to get heir leaves, which made seeing the first migrants a lot easier. Below is a Great-crested Flycatcher that just sat while I clicked away.

I saw a female Eastern Towhee at a distance on May 8, four days before I saw a male.

The male Eastern Towhee was quite striking.

A Swainson’s Thrush barely stands out against a muddy-looking background.

It was about the last time I was going to see a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher well. They are still around but busy nesting.

I can almost count on seeing male Baltimore Orioles but the females are less visible, so it was nice to capture this one.

Yellow Warblers are still around, those that stay to breed here, but now that they have established their territories they have all but vanished.

Indigo Buntings, the summer show-offs at the Portage are back in good number. I will have a lot more photos of these guys.

Most rewarding has been the return of Green Herons now that there’s some water.

Northern Flickers aren’t always easy to see.

Here’s one more of this stunning male Scarlet Tanager.

I am pretty much over my breakthrough Covid infection, but even though it was fairly mild, it’s not something I want to repeat, so I am not considering myself invincible from this latest “booster”. I am more determined than ever to wear a mask in any indoor setting.

It’s raining this morning and cool. But we will be heating up just in time for the Memorial Day holiday. I still have a lot of photos from the last couple of weeks to share and I hope to be back soon.

More Warblers, as Promised

I’ve been trying to get caught up with the other warbler species I have seen this spring migration. Most exciting was the Hooded Warbler at the top of this post, which appeared at Columbus Park last Saturday. It had been seen by others, but I heard it still singing so I hung around where it likely was until I could find it with the camera. I haven’t seen one of these guys in some time, so I was really pleased.

Also seen on Saturday was a Wilson’s Warbler, who finally let me get a good look at his signature black cap.

At the Chicago Portage earlier on May 9, there were Golden-winged Warblers, a Blue-winged Warbler, and more Nashville and Black-throated Green Warblers than I have seen since. They arrived right before the big windy warmup that caused the fallout the next day along the river.

Golden-winged Warbler

I took too many photographs of the Golden-winged. I apologize but this species is less frequently seen.

One bird was foraging along with a Nashville Warbler.

I think the bird below is a female.

Here’s one more with the Nashville and flowers still on the tree.

Nashville Warblers were common earlier but were way up in the tree tops.

The Nashvilles were in good numbers.

I managed to photograph a Blue-winged Warbler on the same day. I haven’t seen one since. I still have fond memories of seeing many of them a couple years ago.

There were some Black-throated Green Warblers at the Portage as well. I haven’t seen them too much this spring, but they were all over the place in the fall.

A few more…

Lately the most prevalent species has been Blackpoll Warbler. It has been relatively easy to distinguish their calls and then find them.

I have seen a few of these again since last Saturday but these photos are all the same individual.

I nearly forgot the Nashville Warblers from May 9. They didn’t stand out too much in that light.

Apologies for being quiet on this page for a while. I have unwittingly succumbed to a breakthrough infection which I can’t trace, of course, to anything specific although I have my suspicions. After two plus years of doing what I was supposed to do, getting the vaccines and masking up and socially distancing etc., etc. this is almost an affront to my sense of self. On the other hand, why not me? As mutations continue to make the virus harder to resist and restrictions are lifted, I can only count my blessings: I am not very sick, I live alone with my birds and I feel better every day. My energy is returning rapidly. I can be well and still take too many photos and start to nod off processing them. I am extremely grateful I managed to take these photographs of spring warbler migration before I got sick. There are lots more photos of warblers and some other birds to come. I hope you are staying safe and well.

Visiting with Vireos

To add to the confusion or maybe to clarify instead, how about a little Vireo review? I misidentified a Warbling Vireo this morning while talking to a lovely birder I met on the trail in Riverside Lawn, thinking I saw the eyeline of a Red-eyed Vireo but when I reviewed my photographs, they were all of a Warbling Vireo. Either it’s been easier to see Warbling Vireos this year, or else it’s just the luck of being out more, but I have managed to capture them on several occasions. This bird was particularly easy to photograph because it was distracted by trying to grab some webbing, and maybe I was more distracted by its behavior as well.

Depending on the light, the slight yellowish cast on the breast can appear darker.

And then in this morning’s photographs, I had what appears to be a Philadelphia Vireo, which is very easy to confuse with the Warbling but is definitely more yellow on the breast in appearance and darker above.

The Red-eyed is most commonly seen and shouldn’t be confused with anybody else. Sometimes you see the red eye for which it is named but these photos from Saturday at Columbus Park did not capture that field mark.

I had to dig a little into the archives a bit for the other two vireos. Below is a Blue-headed Vireo I saw briefly at the Portage a couple weeks ago, but the other photographs are from the exact same time of year two years ago.

And I will end with the one least-often seen but always appreciated – the beautiful Yellow-throated Vireo. I captured these individuals on two separate occasions last fall at Bemis.

I’m glad we got that out of the way. I’ll be back with lots more.

Oh yes – most importantly: vireos always have blue feet which you may be able to see in some of the closer photos.

More Warblers and Others

This is the last of the fallout warblers from Tuesday morning but I have added a few more to my migration sightings, so I will have to round those up next. I suspect that after feasting most if not all the warblers I encountered on Tuesday resumed their journey to their breeding grounds, with no interruption from the weather to slow them down. And some of the Yellow Warblers will be staying.

There were only a few Black-throated Green Warblers.

Warbling Vireos are abundant but will not be so easy to see once the leaves take over.

The White-breasted Nuthatches have been noticeably quiet, so I can’t count them until I see them.

There was still enough water left in the fluddle for the two Solitary Sandpipers that were hanging out,

Scarlet Tanagers are always noticeable. I have seen them several times this season so I will be back with more captures.

Remember Palm Warblers? I think they are probably all gone but there were still several on Tuesday.

A few more of the last Palm Warblers…

Here’s the female Blackpoll Warbler that Vera identified after it snuck in with the Palms. Thanks, Vera!

A warbler I don’t see very often, a Northern Waterthrush, is a likely bird around the river.

Below is the last Pine Warbler I saw. They were earlier than other species but now are considered late. According to my Sibley app this is a likely first-year female.

Gray Catbirds have been very easy to see this spring. They’ve been quite vocal too.

Finally there’s food for flycatchers.

Eastern Phoebe

There were two Eastern Kingbirds sallying for prey from high perches over the river that day.

It was nice to see a couple Cedar Waxwings. While I once say them kiting for insects in large numbers, more likely I will see them congregating in fruiting trees later.

I’m always up for a Blue Jay if it’s sitting still.

I will be back with more warblers and other species as spring migration continues. In a way I am thankful things have slowed down a bit.

Warbler Overload – Part III

Warbler migration always seems to be defined by the appearance of “Maggies” and Redstarts. Magnolia Warblers are generally abundant in migration, and they always seem to cheerfully accept their fate as lens subjects.

The male Magnolia Warbler has that big bright white wing patch. The female Magnolias do not have the wing patch and their black streaks don’t form a “necklace” or thick black streaks.

More male Magnolias…

And some females…with one paler male snuck in below.