A Quick Note from the Yard

I will miss the American Goldfinches that have faithfully visited my yard all winter and into the spring, especially as they quickly figured out and appreciated this seed feeder which I resurrected from the basement when I could no longer tolerate a squirrel taking over the feeder pole (which you can see is leaning over thanks to the squirrel). I even hoped to get a few photos this weekend of the goldfinches and the House Finches on this feeder because they make it look like one of those attractive advertisements for the feeder itself. But yesterday it became apparent that an avian flu is spreading, albeit among waterfowl and not detected in passerines yet, and we are advised to take down our feeders until May 31st unless otherwise notified.

My first thought was that I would save a lot of money on birdseed. My second thought was that this was the perfect opportunity to clean up and restore the soil underneath the feeder poles which has been poisoned by fallen seed. I have a mountain of compost to work into the soil. It will be more of a challenge to remove the fallen seed, as much as I have cleaned up I can’t get it all. As for that money I’m saving on birdseed, I have already invested it in some seed catchers that I can attach to the feeders when I put them back up.

Of course I quit feeding the squirrels too and they are apoplectic. But I managed to do this for several weeks last year before the inaugural Berwyn Historical Society Garden Walk, primarily to help get rats out of the yard, and nobody suffered terribly and everyone came back almost immediately the day I put feeders back out. So as bad as I feel about stiffing my friends, they will survive. In case you’re wondering, these photos were taken on April 10.

Beyond that, there are two lovely blooms in the backyard – the only flowers so far. I thought I had identified this plant but now I can’t remember what it is. It showed up by itself and keeps coming back, but it is not aggressive, so even if it’s not native I am happy to see it. If you recognize it, please let me know and I will try not to forget it.

And the other lovely surprise is what I thought was the beginnings of a Virginia Bluebell that I planted from a bare root last fall, on a hope and a prayer, after I had removed all the Hostas from the back of the house. I planted Jack in the Pulpit back there too but likely it won’t take. I am just curious to see what happens. I was just out in the yard and this turns out to be more of the same unidentified plant…

Beyond that, I have my work cut out for me. I am going to start trimming the stalks in the front yard this morning in between the raindrops and tomorrow after I recover from “leading” a bird walk at Thatcher Woods in River Forest that starts at 7:00 AM which means I have to get up by 4:30.

One more thought. I am waiting to hear the official word on hummingbird feeders. I haven’t put mine out yet but there are reports of hummingbirds showing up in the state. I hope I can at least put the hummer feeders out next week. After the Spring Music Festival…

More September Songs

I spent all day Saturday at a women’s retreat – my very first retreat ever with any organization (I don’t count a job-related paralegal “retreat” years ago) and after two years of virtual isolation save day-to-day brief interactions here and there, I am still basking in the love and inclusion of the community experience. We were all masked and sufficiently socially distanced most of the time. Normally this retreat would occur over a weekend, so this was the first (and I hope last) pandemic-influenced gathering. Actually the fact that it was contained in one day made it easier for me to attend because the thought of finding someone to take care of the birds these days doesn’t even enter my mind.

I spent yesterday still processing the insights and new relationships. In a way, I was still on the retreat. I fully intended to go for a walk this morning, but if the ground is anything like my backyard, there is likely ice everywhere, possible snow flurries are in the forecast this morning, and the windchill is in the single digits. I am still wearing my long underwear. Maybe I’ll go out and see if I can sneak a photo or two of the yard birds. But I think I will wait until tomorrow to go walking anywhere. We have a promised warmup which, by Wednesday, looks to be a big, soggy meltdown.

This is a brief photographic return to September 13th at the Portage. The only warbler I managed to photograph well was the American Redstart at the top of the post, but there were many more later. Perhaps the most spectacular sighting that day was the Red-headed Woodpecker below, albeit too far away to get a decent photograph. This is still a very infrequent visitor to the Portage but the habitat keeps changing, so we shall see.

Also spectacular that day was to see a beautiful Mourning Cloak caterpillar.

Young American Robins, in various plumages.

We must have gotten some rain, everything looked a little greener than the more parched summer images.

I do remember seeing one or two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds like this female that would sit and rest by the trail.

Downy Woodpeckers – all year long.

Had to check my ebird list to make sure I reported both… I believe the top photo is a Swainson’s Thrush, and the one below it, a Gray-cheeked Thrush.

I think this is Silphium pinnatifidum, which has a lot of different common names: Cutleaf Rosinweed, Cutleaf Prairie Dock, Tansy Rosinweed, Southern Dock … the wildflower challenge will resume this summer.

Perhaps the most gratifying part of the retreat was having the opportunity to share my love of birds and music and how profoundly the birds have changed my life for the better. I retrieved this published article from long ago and read it to the participants during the “sharing show” at the end of the retreat. I have added this as a page to the menu where it is a bit easier to read if you are so inclined. I was just becoming aware of birds and my observations are definitely of the novice variety, but I was delighted to rediscover the beginnings of all this, so to speak. Even more wonderful was to receive spontaneous praise for my writing. In retrospect I realize I have needed that encouragement, if I am going to go back to writing the elusive book I keep starting in my head. This experience will carry me forward to my start deadline which is now July 5.

Spring will soon be intoxicating and toss all these reflections asunder. But I still have some photos left over from September and of course there’s the here-and-there of more recent outings. I think my goal will be to get caught up enough so I can be more current by spring. It’s always good to have goals. I think.

Going Back a Bit – Now and Then

Suffice it to say we are presently in the middle of a cloud. I took the little camera out this morning trying to capture it. The rain overnight and the cloud cover made the prospect of going for a walk in the woods less attractive than usual.

In the backyard, the cloud continued…

This is a perfectly senseless segue to some photos from July 31st taken at the Portage on the cusp of what would soon be the beginning of fall migration. The photos have been languishing on my hard drive and in the name of creating space I have archived them to storage. I found I had one photograph of a Big Bluestem that day in my backyard (below).

Big Bluestem

It appears to have been a suitably sunny morning at the Portage.

It was getting more difficult to find an Indigo Bunting still singing (above) and what was my last attempt to capture a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the Monarda below.

A Chimney Swift…

Summertime flora…

Queen Anne’s Lace
Squirrel Tail-Grass
Tall Bellflower, also at the top of the post

An elusive Gray Catbird in a mulberry tree…

As I recall there wasn’t enough water to support a lot of turtles last summer but here is one.

An Osprey flew over…

A young American Robin perched on the statue, getting its bearings…

Belted Kingfishers are not often easy to capture but I managed this one, a male.

Ah, dragonflies… a female 12-Spotted Skimmer.

The Portage pond, as it were, on the left, and the low level of the Des Plaines River on the right.

Two Cabbage White Butterflies…

A Monarch Butterfly in the Red Milkweed below.

And a Pearl Crescent Butterfly…

I have been out to the Portage a couple times in the last week and will be back with some of that, but I thought it might be nice to briefly remember what the sunlight looked like in the middle of summer before we finally plunge into some winter weather. Rain may turn to snow with some accumulation tomorrow.

More Portage Warblers and Friends

I’m taking advantage of the rainy forecast – we’re not getting much rain yet but it is quite cloudy and we could get more. I needed a morning off from birding anyway as my left foot was complaining about something of unknown origin yesterday. It’s better this morning, but I’ll defer the walking part of my day and swim a mile in the pool later this evening.

These photographs are from my second visit to the Portage now almost two weeks ago – on September 8th. The clear skies gave way to intense light which made for some interesting contrasts when I found a cooperative Black-throated Green Warbler.

I found it hard to resist taking one photo of my favorite shelf fungus which is conveniently located close to the trail.

Two-year male American Redstarts have been few and far between and avoiding me, but I sort of managed a furtive representation of this one. The first-year males have been plentiful, but I think that’s a female below as the flank color isn’t quite orangey enough.

Female American Redstart

I have seen a good number of Blackpoll Warblers this fall, like the one below.

Here’s one of my favorite combinations – Canada Goldenrod and Boneset seem to have an affinity for each other. A closeup of the Boneset is below.

Here’s a European Starling in the Pokeweed berries.

I had a nice look at a light morph Red-tailed Hawk.

Certain birds tend to stand out and the number of Eastern Wood-Pewees I have seen well fall into this category.

Swainson’s Thrushes have been everywhere. Period. But sometimes they look like Gray-Cheeked Thrushes and vice versa…

This looks like a Gray-Cheeked Thrush to me.

Here’s what the Des Plaines River looked like two weeks ago – it’s even lower now.

Red-eyed Vireos were abundant.

Maybe – just maybe – the bird below was a Wilson’s Warbler. Sadly, I have no other views of it. I am still trying to codify warbler colors. This looks like Wilson’s Warbler Yellow to me.

The Portage colors match the birds.

There was a Canada Warbler that day.

And American Robins are so ubiquitous that when one stands out, I sometimes have to capture it. The bird below looks to be very young and quite curious.

It’s been a rewarding fall migration season so far for me, albeit tucked away in my location limits. Eventually I will have to go down to the lakefront and other places a little more far-flung but for the moment I feel like I am enjoying my morning outings around here.

One more – Magnolia Warbler

Sundays at McGinnis – Part 2

As promised, here’s my last visit to McGinnis Slough. I have been out birding every morning since, mainly at the Chicago Portage but a couple other places too, and fall passerine migration is in full swing. I don’t know if I will ever get through all my photographs, but I intend to start posting them soon as much as possible.

It was delightful to spend a little time with a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher at McGinnis.

This Song Sparrow perched nicely for me.

Another bird I felt very privileged to see well was the Marsh Wren below. I could hear wrens in the reeds but they are always nearly impossible to see. Then, while I stood in the same spot looking at whatever waterfowl I could see, this one popped out in a bush to get a closer look at me.

I also saw a Brown Thrasher – a bird I used to see a lot more of but now rarely. And then my first Palm Warbler of the fall season.

A few more of the Marsh Wren…

Finally, a cooperative flower. It appears to be a hibiscus. But I am used to seeing the big pink rose mallow flowers that bloom here every year and they have been few and far between.

More views of the American Redstart that is at the top of the post.

I wonder if the slough will ever have enough water again to host the hundreds of ducks that usually show up in the early spring.

Common Green Darner

Tall Boneset is now blooming with the Canada goldenrod.

Several Barn Swallows took a break from scooping bugs out of the air…

And there was one lone Tree Swallow.

I managed to barely see the Trumpeter Swans – and noticed there was only one Cygnet. I fear the other two did not survive. I suppose the likeliest predator would be a coyote.

Peter Mayer has just written a beautiful song called “Trumpeter Swans” which I have already listened to maybe a hundred times…

The Herons were all hanging out in what little water is left.

And I caught a Wood Duck in flight.

I was a little surprised to see Northern Shovelers.

These fuzzy-looking acorns caught my eye. They are not acorns. They are called “hedgehog galls” and are formed by wasps.

Northern Crescent

This Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher is probably halfway to its winter home by now.

Okay. I hope to be back very soon with a feast of warbler photographs. There have been other interesting birds too. Thanks for checking in!

Summer Slowdown at the Portage

I went rather late to the Portage yesterday morning. I chalked it up to being tired after swimming late Friday night and not happy getting up in the dark. I have been to the Portage a few more times that I haven’t written about yet, but I didn’t take too many pictures yesterday so this is about the size of a blog post I can handle at the moment.

Sometime this past week, after picking up my new prescription glasses, it occurred to me that the viewfinder on my camera might be dirty. I have had a snap-on cover over the LCD display since 2013, and I don’t think I ever removed it to clean it! There was dust and dirt and who knows what else, and while it doesn’t exactly cover the viewfinder, it snaps onto it to align with the LCD display. So after ordering another cover in case I messed up trying to remove and clean, I cleaned the cover, the LCD display and the viewfinder, replaced the cover and solved the main reason why I haven’t been able to focus the camera. One of those “Duh, is it plugged in?” moments…

There weren’t many birds to see yesterday, and for the most part those that I did see were very far away. But now that I am able to focus…sometimes it’s easier to see them with the camera than my binoculars. Two distant male American Goldfinches below…

There were several male Baltimore Orioles about but they didn’t sit still for long.

I was surprised to find what looks like a juvenile Blue Grosbeak in my photographs. I was listening to chip notes that sounded very metallic like a cardinal’s but wasn’t exactly sure who I was following with my lens in the photos below, due to the backlighting making it difficult to see. Blue Grosbeaks are not common at the Portage.

Just when I was about to give up on Robins, I did find the flock as I was heading out of the woods. I caught this one on its way to join a few others in the bare tree branches below. And way in the upper left is an Eastern Kingbird which otherwise would never have made it to the list. So it pays sometimes to take pictures of distant backlit birds.

Pretty well-disguised, I had to look at this photograph more than a few times before I could find the bird in it, which appears to be a young Gray Catbird. I heard several along the trail, but did not see the ones I heard.

My best close encounter was this juvenile male House Finch.

I have been looking for these Damselflies on the back trail that leads out to the train tracks and runs parallel to the river. This one was nice enough to stop and pose for me.

Blue Dancer Damselfly

More pollinators…

This young-looking House Wren was quite far away…

Even farther away was a flock of birds that, until I could blow them up on my laptop later, I couldn’t identify. They turned out to be Cedar Waxwings.

My favorite shelf fungus…

I have become more interested in the plant life that seems to be forever changing at the Portage as more and more invasive species are removed. Having said that, there’s still a potpourri of natives and non-natives. The distant fruits on the left appear to be Pokeweed. The pink flowers in the upper righthand corner are persicaria longiseta which I have been pulling out of my yard for years, as it is non-native (it seems to have a million common names, among them, Oriental Lady’s Thumb). The white flowers are White Snakeroot which I have also been pulling out of my yard before they ever got to bloom. It’s native but weedy.

We’re in a moderate drought again, with periodic promises of rain that so far have not amounted to much.

The Des Plaines is low again.

One more photo of the Silver Spotted Skipper which, in this cropping, at least, makes me appreciate Giant Ragweed a bit more.

Silver Spotted Skipper

I have seven more days of work. It seems hard to believe.

I didn’t go out this morning because I wanted to be home for the “live” videotaped broadcast of Unity Temple’s last virtual service. My friend Linda Rios and I contributed with our musical offering recorded about a month ago, after several false starts and some procrastination. We played Schubert’s Sonatine in D Major for the Prelude and two other shorter pieces: Hommage a J.S. Bach by Hans Andre-Stamm for the anthem and Wait There by Yiruma for the postlude. We will be going back to live services which to be streamed online, but without the congregation as originally planned. The choir also had its first rehearsal outdoors in another church’s garden, complete with chairs set up, a keyboard for the accompanist, new music to learn and a cicada chorus which never stopped singing. We are going to continue to rehearse in this format until we run out of daylight, I guess. See what happens…

I know I am always making promises but I will be back with more from previous Portage visits – before fall migration clamors for my remaining disk space.

Summer Slough

Even though it’s not a great photograph, I am leading off this post from McGinnis Slough on July 17 with this rather rare sighting of two Trumpeter Swans and their three Cygnets. While one can normally count on seeing the swans, albeit from a great distance way on the other side of the slough, the largest part of the slough has virtually no open water, so the swans moved to the small portion of water that is closer to LaGrange Road. I saw them through the tall grasses and reeds that grow close to the trail. I posted close-ups of the adults in March of 2019 when there was excessive flooding which enticed them to check out what this side of the slough was like. Here’s a link to that post. https://wordpress.com/post/musicbirdblog.com/21280

Below are two photos of what the larger body of water looks like without much water in it. If the swans nested in their traditional location, I wonder how difficult it was to move the kids all the way across this marsh.

I heard more birds than I saw. The Marsh Wrens are always frustrating to me this time of year. I hope to start going back next weekend as fall migration approaches, and maybe I’ll get luckier. In the meantime, below are some more photos of the swan family. They were joined briefly by a Wood Duck.