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…

Warming Up … Two Steps Forward

On this first day of a four-day warm up not to be missed, I visited the Chicago Portage. I have been there several times in the past few weeks, alternating between the Portage and Riverside, but have not had a chance to do another post for over a week and I apologize. Things have just suddenly gotten so busy I have gone out in the morning when the weather has been tolerable, but have not been able to catch up with my photographs. I apologize for my temporary abandonment of this blog, but this is just a short post before I have to re-immerse myself into figuring out how to play and sing a somewhat complicated arrangement of a song for the Spring Music Festival next week. I spent hours and hours writing out the score just so I could identify where and what chord changes occur. It’s been about 40 years since I last did this sort of thing…

It started out a bit cloudy and cool but the sun emerged and with its warmth came the beautiful bright blue sky which I could not ignore.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was not a lot of new bird activity this morning. I heard far more birds than I saw. But we had some rain yesterday and there are likely storms ahead tomorrow, which just might encourage more birds to visit. I was most thrilled to see a Great Egret at the far end of the stream as I was walking in its direction. I proceeded as slowly as possible but knew that I would eventually be closer than it could tolerate, especially on such a quiet morning this early in the season. But this is the first Great Egret I have seen this year, which makes it likely to expect numbers of them on the Des Plaines River at Riverside where I have been looking out for them. And it’s so special to have a heron on the water at the Portage after last year’s drought made them so scarce. I am hoping for Green Herons to return.

As can be expected, Red-winged Blackbirds were going about their business.

Also on the water, there have been Blue-winged Teal for the past couple weeks. I counted 14 on April 19. Today there were two pair. I didn’t get great photos through the vegetation but at least this couple perched conveniently on a log. I promise more Blue-winged Teal photos when I start getting caught up with previous visits.

In the sparrow department I heard Song Sparrows but didn’t get on them with the camera. I did manage to record a couple Fox Sparrows though.

The Northern Flickers are doing everything they can right now to avoid my lens. It should be easier to capture them later.

With the sunshine, turtles emerged.

For what it’s worth I found some interesting white foliose lichen growing on a dead log.

For the most part there were a heck of a lot of American Robins. Everywhere. So I have to give them some credit, even if none of it is terribly interesting.

American Robin in flight

So, that’s it for my short post today. I hope to be back sooner than I think I can make it. If it rains as predicted tomorrow, maybe I can catch up a bit with some photos from other locations as some warblers are starting to arrive. Indeed I was a bit surprised I didn’t have any warblers this morning as I had several individuals yesterday in Riverside. So I guess I know what my next post should be!

Golden Crowns in Riverside

I’ve been trying to write this post since last Tuesday. Spring migration has begun, and at this rate I will not be able to get caught up until next spring. On my visit the morning of April 5 to Riverside, one species stood out, albeit the smallest: Golden-crowned Kinglet. I first encountered several by the paved path in Riverside, but on the Riverside Lawn side of the river, there could easily have been more than the 50 I reported. They were slightly outnumbered by Red-winged Blackbirds that I did not bother to photograph in cloudy light, but I did record them because some of their vocalizations reminded me a bit of other blackbirds I have heard and you can hear the beautiful cacophony in the second recording below. The first recording has the sound of the Kinglets – that little tiny tinker bell sound on top of the blackbird chorus.

Golden-crowned Kinglets
Red-winged Blackbirds

I took way too many pictures of the Kinglets because they were practically at eye level or on the ground…

Here’s how the Des Plaines River looks these days from the paved path in Riverside.

On the other side of the paved path, the flood plain was flooded a bit, providing enough water for a group of Blue-winged Teal along with Mallards and Canada Geese. As for the geese, I have been seeing 68B a lot lately.

In addition to all the Golden-crowned Kinglets I saw my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the season.

Here’s how the river looked that morning from the Lyons side by the Hofmann Tower.

When I came back to the bridge on Joliet Avenue I could just barely see a Belted Kingfisher perched far away in this tree. I had followed her in flight from another location. I have usually seen a male at this location so it was nice to see her with her rufous breast band.

There were still some Red-breasted Mergansers in the river, although they were pretty far away.

I always have room for a perching Northern Cardinal. Here are my two volunteers from that morning.

With the available light on and off, I thought these Mallards looked rather content in the fluddle.

The perched Song Sparrow sat and talked to me, he didn’t sing this time. The one on the ground looks to be a different individual.

Brown Creepers never really disappeared but they seem to be making a comeback for spring anyway.

I wasn’t able to capture a Great Blue Heron by the river that morning but I sort of managed to commemorate these two flying over.

Here are two more of my favorite Golden-crowned Kinglet photos.

I will try to get back sooner. I have been alternating visits to Riverside with the Chicago Portage and every day I have gone out, I have seen something new.

I also have been spending time visiting with my flute-playing friend Linda who very unfortunately broke her femur a week and a half ago. She is recuperating well from a successful surgery which put her back together, and she is now in rehab. I will miss playing with her in this year’s Spring Music Festival but pray for her complete recovery and making music together again.

Return of the Slough

All the rain we have had has made McGinnis a slough again. The water levels are now deep enough to support a lot of birds and to attract visiting American White Pelicans. I read someone’s post about seeing them flying over McGinnis Slough on Sunday, which would have been a lovely sight, but that was enough to motivate me to see if perhaps some had decided to stay. I remember seeing hundreds of them years ago. I was happy to see perhaps forty or so, albeit too distant for a decent photograph, on Monday morning.

Even if there weren’t a lot of birds that I could see very well, it was good to see the slough again.

There were Bufflehead and Ring-necked Ducks at a distance, as is everything at McGinnis right now. I did manage to see one male Ring-necked Duck near enough for a photo. I haven’t seen these birds in a while. Look closely and you can see the ring on his neck.

Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of American Coots, some of which I inadvertently disturbed walking back through the trail.

Also predictably, there were a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds deciding on their territories. I took too many shots of this one trying to hold onto his perch in the wind.

Below, another male and a female, perched in the marsh.

Toward the end of last summer the water was non-existent. It’s good to see it again.

It started to get really cloudy before I left.

There were several Pied-billed Grebes but they were too far away to photograph except for maybe this one.

I barely captured this female Northern Cardinal but she proved how few photo opportunities there were.

The next series of photos is from one of my last visits on November 8 of last year. There were not many birds on that visit either although I attribute much of that to the fact that the grass was being cut very noisily.

The water levels were returning by November, which I guess was attractive to some Ring-billed Gulls.

Song Sparrows were still around here and there.

There were several Pied-billed Grebes that day as well.

And the American Coots were less skittish.

Canada Geese in formation

Now I will be start going to McGinnis more often. I will likely branch out and visit more places in the Palos area too, as there are a lot of them.

I am looking forward to choir rehearsal tonight. We sang half-masked on Sunday. The sanctuary was full of congregants so it was slowly starting to feel a little bit more normal. One inch at a time.

Slowly Emerging from Winter’s Grip

We are still cold. The forecast hovers between rain with a little snow mixed in and sunny respites here and there – the last sunny morning was Friday, and we will have one more day of sunshine tomorrow. I will be indoors singing in the choir, but it will be good to have the sunshine streaming through the clerestory windows of Unity Temple: the forecast is for rain and snow every day in the week ahead.

I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. Last year we had a drought. We seem to be making up for it this year. In any event, contrary to my musings in my last post, the American Tree Sparrows have not yet left the Portage, and there are still a few Dark-eyed Juncos around too. There wasn’t much happening with perching birds yesterday so I took note of a few other things.

A dusting of snow from the night before
Blue sky
A little bit of green
Flooded bottomlands by the Des Plaines

I was encouraged to see and hear an Eastern Phoebe, albeit at quite a distance.

There are Americans Robins everywhere, but they were generally too busy for photographs. I often find one walking ahead of me, sometimes looking back waiting for me to make the next move.

The Brown-headed Cowbirds are back, and beginning their courtship rituals. Below, some photos of the standard configuration – two males and one female with her back to both of them.

There were Red-winged Blackbirds everywhere but they were often too busy to capture. It is nice to see the females getting ready to settle in.

Since there were still numerous American Tree Sparrows, I took a lot of photos. Just to make sure I won’t forget what they look like.

Song Sparrows were not as easy to capture but they will be around all summer, when I will try as ever to get a picture of one singing.

Then there’s the stuff that seems to be greening before everything else and drawing my attention to the thorns amongst the leaves. It looks like some sort of wild gooseberry but I haven’t nailed it down yet. Update: my faithful follower Ann has identified this as Ribes hirtellum, Wild Gooseberry. Thank you, Ann!

Now I’m going back to March 15, which by contrast was a cloudy day, but offered some nice photo opportunities.

Sometimes I just get lucky with these White-breasted Nuthatch guys. This time became a nuthatch overload.

Also memorable that day was seeing a male Wood Duck in the water.

And then, flying away…

A male Red-winged Blackbird offered a series of images.

I also captured a female in flight.

A pair of Song Sparrows perched for me.

And I had an elusive Black-capped Chickadee. They have been keeping a low profile lately but I expect to see them a lot as soon as the bugs and warblers arrive.

I can’t resist being stared down by a Dark-eyed Junco.

American Tree Sparrows were fewer in number than they have been in the last week.

One more American Robin on the ground.

With the forecast for rain and snow this week, I don’t know how often I will get out. Of course things can change. I just don’t want to repeat an exercise I went through one day last week when I went out the front door and came back in three times before I finally decided to take my chances. So I will likely be back with some older photos before I banish them to storage. I hope your days are getting greener.

Feeling Warmer in the Sun

I went to the Chicago Portage on Monday morning, the last time we had full sunshine, and I met a lot of birds and some people too. It was cold, but the sunshine gave a little bit more than the illusion of warmth. In all it was good to go slowly and watch the birds, but I took way too many photographs. I wonder how I will manage to get through warbler migration at this rate.

After stopping and talking to some people on the trail and mentioning that Golden-crowned Kinglets had started showing up when they asked me if there was anything new, I encountered about half a dozen of the birds and managed to capture one who volunteered for a lot of clicks.

It was almost worth it to memorialize the blue sky background.

Somewhere next to the trail by some spindly young hackberry trees I saw this very thorny plant that had the only green leaves in the entire preserve. I am not familiar with this at all. I welcome identification from any botanists out there.