Going Back a Bit

I have been out locally the past two weeks and there is much to post about, but I thought it might be time to take a historical break. These pictures are all from October 19th at the Portage. Only a little over a month ago, there was still more color among the birds than the leaves. I spent a lot of time with this Nashville Warbler.

Perhaps in the instance below the leaves outshone the bird – a pretty drab-looking American Goldfinch.

The other late fall warblers were on hand. Below is a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

And the one I kept seeing later and later into the season, an Orange-crowned Warbler…

Barely visible but I would know that face anywhere (Orange-crowned Warbler)

Not a lot of sparrows on hand but I managed to capture these two.

White-throated Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow

And the Kinglets – Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned…

It’s been wonderful to see Brown Creepers on so many occasions.

Always glad to see a Black-capped Chickadee who seems to return the sentiment.

This could have been the only Great Blue Heron I saw here for months since the drought caused the water level to drop so drastically.

Not a wonderful place for a Hermit Thrush to pose but I was glad to see it.

It wasn’t quite woodpecker “season” yet but I managed to see this female Downy Woodpecker.

There are lots more historical visits to make sense of – indeed a flurry of fall warblers that I was so busy taking pictures of I barely have barely had time to go through them, so they may periodically provide a little visual warmup during the cold.

I am mourning the death of my beloved singer/songwriter/implacable musician Zebra Finch male to whom I gave the name of Arturo Toscanini. He died Thursday morning. I found him on his back, on the floor of the dining room by the windows. He was still warm when I picked him up. He had been singing a lot lately, and I think perhaps he had been telling me his time was coming because I found myself thinking about how old he had to be, even though he had no signs of aging or impairment, other than it seemed his little goatee was getting whiter and whiter. The blessing in all of this is that I have one of his offspring who is singing an abbreviated version of his Arpeggio Song and an even shorter memory of his TaTaTaTaTAH Song. Also, other birds have taken up the actual Toscanini Song that he used to sing a long time ago. And there are many more songs among them to catalogue and follow. At some point I hope to go through the years of recordings (I determined I must have gotten Arturo sometime in late 2014) to see if I can put together a timeline of his compositions. In the meantime, I am incredibly thankful for all the avian musicians I still have with me. Singing is their raison d’etre, and music is life.

More Sides to the River

Last week, I finally discovered the other side of the Joliet Avenue bridge in Riverside which everybody else, even my non-birder friends, has likely known about. By running a little later than I had planned, I magically encountered two very nice women that morning who offered some interesting history about the river communities. These photographs are from the 10th and the 16th, and I probably should have done two separate posts, again I have too many photographs.

Except for this past Tuesday. I have been trying to settle into somewhat of a Wednesday routine, going for a walk along the Des Plaines River, then on to the health club for a midday swim so I am free for choir rehearsal in the evening. The pool tends to be less crowded in the evenings, and I am accustomed to going at that time. I also like to see the night sky after I swim. But I digress. Below is a distant picture of the footbridge I had heard about that crosses the Des Plaines.

Instead of the lawn at Indian Gardens, on this side there is a paved path that follows the river from the other side of the bridge near where I park in Lyons. It goes all the way into the Village of Riverside where the library, town hall and police and fire station are all located. The bridge is just past the police and fire station. I encountered my first guide on this walk. She told me she grew up in the area and had moved away but was back to help with her parents. She said the paved path was new, had been installed perhaps only for a year. Among all her other comments, I remember her saying there was a Bald Eagle family on the river last year. I certainly hope to see some Bald Eagles here this winter.

Across from the river side of the path is a large floodplain area that sits well below street level where there are houses. There are steps leading down into it, which the first woman told me was left over from a historical toboggan slide, There’s a similar sort of structure at Swallow Cliffs in the Palos region. Tobogganing must have been popular in Cook County.

The Riverside Water Tower bears further investigation.

There were two Great Blue Herons on the river.

Some more views of the river, leaves and trees…

Struggling to get a picture of at least one Dark-eyed Junco, I took the one below. I hear them more often than I see them lately.

Here’s a House Sparrow near the paved path who caught my attention.

This were Red-bellied Woodpeckers both days. Below is the one on the 10th.

American Goldfinches are still making the best of seed remnants. They are blending in well.

The foot bridge across the river.

On the other side of the footbridge is a paved road that leads to more development, most of which has since been removed. I met a woman who was driving to her physical therapy appointment – she had stopped for me to finish taking the photograph below. She pointed out several overgrown lots where houses had been. The unincorporated area floods, being too low and so close to the river. If I remember what she said correctly, the government bought out the homeowners to return the area to its natural state as a flood plain. She said wildlife had come back in full force and she was thrilled to tell me she had heard two owls calling to each other the night before.

Whie-breasted Nuthatch with … a nut

On my second visit to this area after I crossed the bridge on the 16th and started on the trail along the river, I found a Brown Creeper and a White-breasted Nuthatch.

Brown Creeper
White-breasted Nuthatch

I think this was the last time I saw a Creeper.

From the bridge, views of Canada Geese on the river.

There were some Mallards on the river as well, but generally far away. I managed to capture these few that were closer to shore. I hope to see some other ducks soon.

After the flocks of American Robins a couple weeks ago, now it’s hard to find even one Robin. Sometimes I only hear one or two.

On the other hand, Northern Cardinals are more visible.

The unpaved path leading back to Joliet Avenue on the other side of the river.

This busy Red-bellied Woodpecker was in the same area of the reclaimed wild space as the Brown Creeper and White-bellied Nuthatch above.

Some more views of the returned-to-wild areas on either side of the river. I will get better at identifying them as I visit more often.

It’s been so dry, it’s hard to imagine what this area will look like when it floods, but I am sure I will find out eventually.

My start and finish point, the Hofmann Tower in Lyons.

Thanks for hanging in here with me. It’s been challenging to put this mess together in any sort of logical progression. But I did want to make a strong case for this place because I will be visiting it often. I have found my second birding home.

Rusties!

Rusty Blackbird

When flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles occur, we’re always looking for Rusty Blackbirds in the mix and until last Sunday I had not seen any. When, just by luck, I happened to be standing on the trail just as a flock of blackbirds flew into the tree in front of me, and lo and behold, mixed in with the Red-wingeds were Rusty Blackbirds!

Below, there’s one Rusty and one Red-winged, for comparison.

These two look like the official greeters.

I was treated to another busy White-breasted Nuthatch.

After an entire summer looking for Red-bellied Woodpeckers and never seeing them, now they are becoming easier to spot. You can even see the “red” on the lower abdomen in the bottom photograph.

I’m really drawn to the gold-colored leaves.

The duckweed turned gray with the cloudy sky, making a strange background for the Mallard below.

A female House Finch and a barely visible Downy Woodpecker.

Below is a flock of American Goldfinches and then one individual well-camouflaged by the vegetation.

This might be the first time I’ve noticed what looks like a cattail gone to seed.

One more of the welcoming committee.

We are getting a little snow, followed by a brief warmup, and then more cold and gloomy weather. I plan to go out as much as possible, just because it’s good to stretch my legs, and then I never know what I will see. Either way there are lots of warbler photographs coming from a few months ago. I should have time now to go through them and celebrate a good haul.

October at the Portage

Fox Sparrow

A brief but driving squall of freezing rain in the yard yesterday morning supported my decision to not go for a walk. More snow and wind on the way today. A good day to take stock of my indoor life.

Yesterday morning also produced a brief sighting of a Cooper’s Hawk and the appearance of the large gray tomcat I scolded out of the yard as I was refilling the birdbaths before the rain started. I have perhaps 30 or more gallons of water stored in the basement and my rain barrels are still quite full. But we are due for more serious overnight freezing temperatures so I have made this my outdoor project for the weekend, draining the rest of the water and covering up the rain barrels for the winter. If predictions prove correct, we will be getting a little preliminary snow that won’t accumulate but will get us in the mood for winter.

These photographs are from October 17. I was not too surprised to discover I hadn’t processed many of them. I did find another confusing fall warbler which I didn’t report. It appears to be a first-year likely female Black-throated Blue Warbler (below).

Much easier to recognize and still pretty plentiful were Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The bird immediately below appears to have fused with the hackberry leaves.

Then there were the tree-climbing Yellow-rumpeds…

I don’t know why it’s been so hard to get a decent picture of a White-throated Sparrow, but I keep trying.

The Song Sparrow below was a more accommodating.

And another Song Sparrows popping up from the vegetation…

A reminder of how dry it still was in mid-October.

In general, Ruby-crowned Kingets were less prevalent than the Golden-crowned this fall.