Down by the River After the Rain

These photos are from two visits to the Riverside trail on October 20 and 27 – both after periods of some significant rain. Although the Des Plaines is nowhere near flood stage, it is good to see it looking more like a river.

Activity around the Hofmann Tower on 10-20 consisted of two flock bursts – the expected Rock Pigeons and also a flock of Blackbirds, mostly Red-Winged.

I saw an Orange-crowned Warbler on both occasions.

Below is a Nashville Warbler I saw on the 20th.

It was hard to get a good photo of this Double-Crested Cormorant through the trees but still nice to see on the 20th. I saw one flying a week later and wonder if it was the same bird…

It’s somewhat easier to get Northern Cardinals to sit still for a photo this time of year. As long as they feel somewhat shielded by a twig…

I saw Brown Creepers on both occasions, and was lucky to photograph this one on the 27th.

A Mallard here and there…

European Starlings are in groups, as usual.

One of those Red-winged Blackbirds still hanging around.

Below on the left is the sign posted at either end of the trail in Riverside that runs along the river. On the right is a sign opposite the western end of said trail, which denotes the Plank Road Meadow which features a boat launch.

House Finches are more visible now.

A tree full of Mourning Doves…

I expect to see more White-Throated Sparrows, but managed to capture only the one below.

I was going to simply add the photo directly below and call it a Tennessee Warbler – even though the face looked a little suspect to me. Then this morning when I flipped over the Audubon calendar hanging over the kitchen sink to November, the photograph of the bird on it looked like the one below, only it was identified as a Pine Warbler. So I took out The Warbler Guide to confirm – because now it was showing up as “rare” on my ebird checklist – and went to the bill shape again. That’s what made the face of this bird not look at all like a Tennessee.

Just to elaborate, I rescued the photos below from my external hard drive and found a few more clues to the Pine Warbler identification. There’s ever-so-slightly a hint of wing-bar showing on a couple photographs, but best of all is the one I brightened up a bit, where the bird is looking directly at me. That’s a Pine Warbler face if I ever saw one. I have to be more careful going through all these photos!

Below is a lovely little Song Sparrow.

The remaining Great Blue Heron is not as visible now from the bridge.

Catalpa tree seed pods on the left, and well-eaten Pokeweed on the right.

An American Robin for good measure…

Not sure whose web this is but I found it interesting.

I saw the Red-tailed Hawk flying below before it landed in the tree.

A few more scenes of this location as the late fall progresses.

We are flirting with overnight freezing temperatures. Indeed, this morning I had to scrape the frost off the windows of the car before I went for a walk at the Portage. Today I will be draining as much water as I can store into empty vinegar gallon bottles, to be used in the now-heated birdbaths all winter.

And as the days get shorter and I see fewer birds… take fewer photographs… maybe I can start revisiting the reason why I started this blog in the first place: my fascination with bird song and the birds’ reactions to music. For the moment, I would like to share with you a funny incident I happened to record way back on August 29th. I was playing piano – I have been revisiting Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” – and perhaps that day it had become a bit of drudgery – I was likely distracted by the fact that my effective retirement date was 2 days off. In any event, I struck a wrong chord while playing the 9th piece of it (“Ritter vom Steckenpferd”) and my indoor crowd IMMEDIATELY let me know that was not acceptable. Which not only proves they were right, but also that they are always listening! Below is the clip. Enjoy. 🙂

Great Blue Heron

Miller Meadows Hawk Fest

Way back on September 7 when I had just begun my new retirement protocol of birding every morning there was good weather, I decided to visit Miller Meadows which is directly across from the health club where I swim, with the idea that I could then go swimming afterwards. I had seen hawks flying on occasion from the health club parking lot, so I should not have been surprised by the number of hawks I saw that morning. It started off with an American Kestrel backlit in poor light. I don’t get to see Kestrels too often so I was happy to take some far-away pictures anyway.

Perhaps what I wasn’t prepared for was the degraded landscape. Invasive teasel has overtaken much of the meadow.

There were a few Palm Warblers trying to make something out of nothing. They were also the first I had seen this fall.

Hawks apparently found the landscape attractive for hunting. I saw several Red-tailed Hawks kiting over the open field, and was fascinated to observe this behavior. There was a Northern Harrier as well. The harrier photos are directly below, and all the rest are various Red-tailed Hawks. How I managed to capture enough detail at considerable distance still surprises me, but also encourages me to continue what otherwise sometimes seems a fruitless endeavor. These are all closely cropped, but if you click on the photos it’s kind of nice to see how the Red-tailed Hawks navigate the air.

The Northern Harrier is below.

i did see an Eastern Kingbird…closer to the ground!

A view of the paved path with phragmites, another invasive species, on the left.

I always try to appreciate at least one American Robin.

Back down on the ground in early September there were still butterflies.

And some interesting beetles… I found my Beetles book but I got even more confused trying to identify them so they will remain nameless – unless you can tell me who they are.

I will continue poring through the last two or three months’ outings for photographs as we are having some more of the rain we didn’t get in the spring. Cloudy, drizzly weather has its advantages, I guess. The disadvantage is lots of mud in the backyard…

Winds of October

I borrowed this title from Peter Mayer, whose song “Winds of October” runs through my head, encapsulating the chill in my bones over the last few days. Our endless summer is over. Although we are still a way off from an overnight freeze, the temperatures are much cooler and we are cloudy and rainy to boot. I can’t complain about the rain. The ground is parched, we need it.

Hoping I could see some migrating Sandhill Cranes at Goose Lake Natural Area this fall, I drove up there with my friend Lesa on Thursday morning… to find no visible cranes, only the sound of them as they likely flew overhead and landed somewhere else as we were walking through the forested tunnel part of the path. The remainder of the path has been paved with some sort of material which I am sure is better for bikes… The lake is totally gone and overgrown, and apparently nothing feeds into it.

But Lesa noticed the bizarre-looking Giant Puffball mushrooms growing off the wooded part of the trail on the way back to the car. I had never seen them before, so it wasn’t a totally uneventful visit.

We continued on to check out Glacial Park as it was nearby, and we watched the feeder birds from inside the visitor’s center… No Sandhills there either. I am not sure if I was too late again this year or if climate change is throwing off the whole scenario, but I likely will not go all the way back in that direction any time soon. But after all the great birding I have otherwise had the past two months, I really should not complain.

I needed a couple days to get caught up on sleep, to rise again early to meet Ed for the 7:30 bird walk at Thatcher Woods yesterday. Ed, who is the organizer, and I were the only two participants. It was chilly and rather cloudy – what else is new? We moved slowly around the perimeter of the grassy area and stood and observed the usual suspects. Most of them were up high and backlit in poor light.

One of only a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers

A few Yellow-rumped Warblers were barely seen. Golden-crowned Kinglets persisted. It was hard to imagine what the kinglets were grabbing out of the air and from the trees in their usual frenetic manner. But I suppose you have to be that small to find the smallest prey – likely those “no-see-ums.”

Running out of options, I took a picture of the moon. And then, as we stood there watching, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo landed on a branch right in front of us. It was no farther away than the first photo below.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I confess I hadn’t seen a Cuckoo in so long, I thought it might be a Black-billed – forgetting what one looked like. But the yellow orbital ring and the big splashy white spots on the tail make it a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

This is a bird I heard off and on all summer long and never saw. Cuckoos are notoriously reticent – in that they don’t move around much, so if they are sitting somewhere calling, well, good luck finding a bird that blends in with its surroundings and doesn’t move. Every Cuckoo I have ever seen has done something like this – either suddenly appeared, or I would happen upon one just sitting over a trail somewhere. But this one came and sat for us at least three minutes, listening to us talking in admiring tones. Maybe it related to the shutter clicks, which could sound, I suppose, like a very slow Cuckoo.

I managed to get a few photos of the other birds that were around. A Black-capped Chickadee was up high in an oak tree.

A Dark-eyed Junco and its shadow

We got a nice look at a Hairy Woodpecker. A photo of a Downy Woodpecker I saw later is below for comparison.

Downy Woodpecker

A Red-bellied Woodpecker was only partially obscured by a few twigs.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Ed had to leave early and I stayed a few minutes extra before a track team started running through. One of three Hermit Thrushes I saw is below.

A gull flew overhead – it might be a first-year Ring-Billed Gull. The black band on the tail would be reason to believe so…

On Friday, I slept in and only went out to do grocery-shopping. I ventured into my backyard in the afternoon for a few minutes while the sun was shining. I am still waiting for someone to eat the berries off the hawthorn before I cut its branches back – they are laden practically to the ground. The berries look good to me, I don’t know why nobody has eaten them yet. Didn’t the berries suddenly disappear in previous years…?

The other overgrown offering seems to be the asters that bloom this late. I don’t know how many times I cut them back from growing over the walk, but they have grown over it anyway. I can forgive them for the abundance attracting a few bees remaining.

As the rain and cold ensue and my birding travels diminish somewhat, I plan to get caught up with the rest of the fall photograph haul… Thanks for tuning in. I will be back.

My Reward for Taking Too Many Pictures

I went to the Riverside trail on October 15. It was extremely cloudy and I had no idea what I could muster photographically under such conditions. I walked as far as I was going to go in one direction along the river and then turned back, and found a very green-looking warbler foraging low in front of me. When I got home to review my photographs, I could not for the life of me figure out what it was. I could only surmise what it wasn’t. The pale-looking eyebrow, the darker green primaries didn’t fit the Orange-crowned Warblers I was used to seeing.

After a good night’s sleep it occurred to me that perhaps the way to approach the bird’s identity was to look closely at the bill shape and size. Color and feather arrangement might seem changeable in a photograph but the bill shape would be constant. And that led me to thinking this was a Mourning Warbler.

As it turned out, when I opened my copy of The Warbler Guide, I found one small photograph that exactly matched my bird. She is a first-year female Mourning Warbler. I was excited as it has been years since I’ve seen a Mourning Warbler altogether. I added some of my photos to my ebird report and made the email-generated Cook County Rare Bird Alert (“RBA”) – I guess she’s a little late making her way south.

A distant Northern Flicker accented the cloudy background.

I have really become familiar with Orange-crowned Warblers this fall. And while I’m looking at bill size and shape, this species has a distinctly small, sharply-pointed bill. Some photos of an Orange-crowned Warbler are below.

For comparison, below are some more photographs of the Mourning Warbler.

Fall is a good time for woodpeckers.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Orange-crowned Warbler

Fall is also a good time for squirrels and nuts…

A cloudy sky.

I have really enjoyed seeing Great Blue Herons here.

And Great Egrets were present too.

Only Mallards are showing up in the waterfowl department.

There are always some Northern Cardinals but this was not a good day to capture one.

The other bird that made the RBA was the Gray-cheeked Thrush below.

Golden-crowned Kinglets have been fun to follow the past couple weeks.

A fall tangle of leaves.

The river looks a little fuller than it did. I envision being unable to do this trail when we start getting a lot of rain…

Here are a few more photographs of the Orange-crowned Warbler who was my best model.