Three Portage Visits

There has been a Lesser Scaup at the Chicago Portage for over a week. I first saw him on March 4 and have seen him on every visit since, including this morning. He seems to be content to hang out and has managed to evade predation. I find him an irresistible subject, even if most of the time he is somewhat far away.

This is a rather long post encapsulating what transpired on my walks at the Portage on the 4th, the 8th and the 10th of March. Immediately below are more photos of the Lesser Scaup from March 4 when I first discovered him.

The 4th was the first time I heard and saw male Red-winged Blackbirds here.

European Starlings are usually way at the top of the trees across the stream from where I am standing, but these two surprised me by being on my side for a change.

Robins are starting to return to the Portage and my neighborhood. They just started singing.

There wasn’t a lot happening on March 4, but it was a sunny day at least.

This young deer was too close and fearless.

Then on March 8, things were a bit more interesting. It started with Downy Woodpeckers chasing around.

I hadn’t gone too far before I saw what I believe to be the local pair of Bald Eagles perched on the electric utility structure. I can’t remember the last time I saw them here but it seems like at least two years.

When I got a bit closer, there was only one eagle perched. I then saw the other flying close by.

It was a beautiful morning.

I kept taking photos of this Red-winged Blackbird as he sang. I don’t know why I have them all here, he didn’t change his position much. But you can hear what he sounded like below.

Song Sparrows could be seen foraging on the ground near the trail.

The Lesser Scaup was present.

On my way out, I encountered three young, lost-looking deer.

And then out on the front lawn, a dead doe that had been ravaged by some beast, likely a coyote. I suspect it was the parent of the three youngsters. I decided to spare you the gorier photos on my cell phone.

As I walked to my car I encountered two Cook County Forest Preserves workers who had come to investigate and clean up. When I drove by about twenty minutes later after running an errand close by, the lawn had been cleared of the carcass.

I began making a connection in my mind between the feeding of the deer and this terrible incident and decided to talk to the man who has been distributing peanuts the next time I saw him.

So I went back to the Portage on March 10. It was a cloudy day and pretty cold.

Sometimes an American Robin will just stare me down.

The Lesser Scaup was still there.

The views that always catch my eye, looking pretty much the same two days later.

An adult Bald Eagle flew over in the distance.

Everybody was down on the ground looking for food, including two White-breasted Nuthatches. I think the one on the tree is a female and the one on the path the male. I wonder if he was going after what looked to me like part of a peanut on the trail.

I was still able to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

And a distant Common Merganser was in the Des Plaines River when I walked through the hole in the fence for a quick look.

There’s a grassy area that leads to the parking lot straight off the trail, but I rarely walk through there. I stood and watched from a distance as several American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows foraged. The American Tree Sparrows are directly below.

And here are some Song Sparrows.

For a direct comparison, below is an American Tree Sparrow on the left and two Song Sparrows. Whenever I start to confuse Song Sparrows with other streaky sparrows, I always look for the noticeable dark malar which is in the cheek-throat area.

Squirrels don’t often tempt me to photograph them but this one was available, so I did.

On the way out, the orphans again seemed too close.

One more of the singing Red-winged Blackbird.

As it happens, I did run into the man feeding wildlife on March 10, and talked with him. He did not appear to be feeding at that moment, his hands were in his jacket pockets. He said he was aware of the rules and that once even the Forest Preserve police said to him, “You’re not feeding wildlife, are you? Because if you are I will give you a ticket.” Obviously that didn’t stop him. In fact, he told me he was the one who called the police about the dead doe. He also told me that she had had a broken leg, which he surmised may have been from an automobile encounter. I told him that he wasn’t helping the deer but in fact might be harming them as they have lost their wariness of humans and perhaps other dangers. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said he was only feeding for the next couple weeks, it was going to warm up and they would have new growth to eat. Plus he was running out of peanuts. He also went off on some inane tangent about there being too many deer and wondered if “they” cull them.

So there doesn’t seem to be much one can do about him. If I see a Forest Preserve police I can approach, I will talk try to ask about it, just to enquire, but I suspect they don’t seem to think there’s anything they can do either. The police do not stay long at any location but move around from one to the next, and I don’t think they are interested in sitting around waiting for the peanut feedr to give him a ticket.

Spring presses on. I will be back soon.

Fall Again

It’s going to take me a day or two to recover from yesterday’s Gull Frolic and make sense of those images, so in the meantime I am back with more from late September at the Chicago Portage where I spent the bulk of my time following warblers feeding in the Hackberry leaves. Although it has been nice to look at these birds in anticipation of their return. my goal this spring will be to publish daily if possible.

These photos were taken on September 24. There were even more respectable images from September 26 so I will be back with those too. My laptop hard drive appreciates your indulgence in these housekeeping matters.

Black-throated Green Warblers were good subjects this past fall.

Just as cooperative, maybe even more so, were Blackpoll Warblers.

This turned out to be a rather reclusive Tennessee Warbler.

Swainson’s Thrushes predominated.

Below is a female Red-bellied Woodpecker, since I have seen only males all winter…

A late-leaving Indigo Bunting undergoing transformation.

Magnolia Warblers were everywhere this past fall but not always easy to capture. They remain among my favorites (in no small part because it’s always easy to figure them out).

Can’t leave out the Downy Woodpecker,

A nice surprise was this female – or immature – Rose-breasted Grosbeak. As I recall I saw one or two for a couple days.

I see more Northern Flickers flying away so it’s nice when they sit still a moment.

Two Mallards resting in the duckweed stream.

As for real time, we warmed up today and there is bright sunshine, but the wind makes being outdoors difficult for the birds and possibly even walking. Oh maybe I’m just making excuses, but I am still sort of worn out after yesterday. I wish a peaceful Sunday and the coming week to you all, wherever you are. I will be back soon with more colorful birds.

This Morning at the Chicago Portage

I have to start getting up earlier! The days are getting longer and I have been giving in to a winter tendency to sleep in… but I think I better get back in shape. In any event, my birds always tell me when it’s sunrise, and on a sunny day they tell me just a little bit before. This morning was gorgeous, awash in sunshine, so after I fed everyone I headed for the Chicago Portage.

Suffice it to say we have had more snow since last week and it was a workout to walk the trails this morning. They have been navigated but the snow is still quite deep. Slow as it goes.

I hardly heard and didn’t see any birds at all until I got to the first rise where I found a couple American Tree Sparrows and several Black-capped Chickadees. The Chickadees evaded my lens but I managed to somehow focus on one Tree Sparrow.

American Tree Sparrow

So it was more snowy scenes, and some interesting sky views.

I took a look around the MWRD to see if there were any birds at all, dreaming of a misguided Snowy Owl, but not seeing anything.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD)

And the view of the Des Plaines River through the bottomlands was equally stagnant.

Beyond the obvious deer tracks, there were some interesting tracks in the snow.

I think these are squirrel tracks – they seem too closely spaced for a rabbit…?

On my way to the second bridge and out..

All was not lost. I saw a distant adult Bald Eagle through the trees but did not have time for a photograph. Still, I was glad to see one.

Here’s a tree that had American Robins in it on January 31 but none today.

I think this Red-bellied Woodpecker has become familiar with me. His territory seems to be closer to the part of the trail where I have been ending my winter walks. Anyway he saw me stop when I heard him chirping around his trees and volunteered several nice looks.

I also managed to get a few somewhat-more-distant shots of a male Downy Woodpecker before I left. Lately it seems to be getting harder to focus at a distance so I’m happy with these.

Those warmer greener photos from late September are still in the works but I felt like honoring today’s walk before the snow melts. Here’s one more of the Red-bellied.

Common Redpolls and Friends

I hadn’t been to LaBagh Woods for years, but I started thinking about it when it seemed I might have a good chance to see some Common Redpolls. They’ve been seen farther north and nearer to the lake than my territory. I used to see them on occasion downtown by the lake, but I didn’t see any the one day I went down for crows. So Saturday I just decided to get in the car and go, one day after our last snowfall.

It’s strange enough trying to remember the layout of a place you haven’t been to for a while, let alone covered in snow. But there were tracks in the snow to follow from the main parking lot.

There wasn’t a lot of light, but I guess the snow made up for that somewhat.

Early on I took photographs of a singular Redpoll and now, after developing them, it almost resembles a Hoary Redpoll. If that was the case, it would make it rather special as they are rarer. But I think it’s just a lighter-colored individual Common Redpoll. it’s really hard to tell.

There was a sign by the river. This is the north branch of the Chicago River. It dawned on me how remarkable it is to have a forest preserve in the middle of a city.

It was at that point that I encountered a fellow birdwatcher who had been there perhaps the day before but had come back to look for lost keys. He wasn’t wearing binoculars but of course I was and we sort of recognized each other as birders. He led me to the path that goes down along the river and pointed me in the direction of where he had seen the Redpolls earlier. As I started to walk, the layout became more familiar and I did encounter a small flock of Common Redpolls, Dark-eyed Juncos and an occasional American Goldfinch.

Two Common Redpolls, one American Goldfinch and one Dark-eyed Junco

It was otherwise pretty quiet until I got down to the northern end where there are some houses that demarcate where the city starts again. Some of the houses have bird feeders. I was simply across the river from their backyards above, and there were several Common Redpolls high up in the trees. I was surprised I managed to hold my heavy lens that high and get photographs. It was simply delightful to hear their calls and watch them.

More Common Redpolls…

At least I managed a closer photograph of a Dark-eyed Junco.

One thing about LaBagh – I had never taken the highway to get there before, which may seem strange because it is right off the Edens Expressway. I have always gone the stop-and-go route through the city, but Saturday morning in January seemed like a safe bet to follow the GPS and take the expressways. Up until Saturday, I have long avoided going through the downtown area which is always congested and has become somewhat confusing due to construction, so I was shocked by the terrible condition of the road surfaces. I can’t imagine driving that every day. But at least traffic was moving and it only took me half an hour to get there and back.

More snowy scenes. The river was frozen and covered with snow except for a little open water under the bridge.

Here are a few more Common Redpoll shots.

I found a few Mourning Doves.

Beyond that I managed to get a brief photo of a Downy Woodpecker in flight after barely focusing on it exploring a tree stump. And one nice Hairy Woodpecker.

Hairy Woodpecker

I was glad to renew my acquaintance with LaBagh Woods, which is named, incidentally, after Ella LaBagh who was a force for establishing the Forest Preserves of Cook County. LaBagh is a great place to see birds during migration and I will be coming back here more often in the spring.

As for snow, the current forecast is for a winter storm warning – Tuesday night through Thursday night. I managed to find some tube sand at the local hardware store this morning and scattered some on what were some icy spots on my walks. I had used up what sand I had from last year and decided I had better get more in anticipation of more snow and ice. The tube sand was 60 pounds – I thought my limit was 50 pounds – but I managed to get it onto my dolly and around to the back porch area. I prefer sand to deicer, I don’t care how environmentally friendly the chemicals are. I have also discovered the House Sparrows consider my front steps a destination for grit for their little gizzards, which is an added bonus to using the sand.

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.