A Walk in the Neighborhood

There’s a huge park in Berwyn — it takes up several blocks! — that I always thought was much farther away than it actually is. I have not been walking as much as I used to the past five years, and definitely feel the need to get out and walk without having to drive somewhere first. So I walked over to Proksa Park a couple times last month and found a few birds to photograph. The round trip is about three-and-a-half miles which only half a mile less than the total mileage I used to walk every day when I worked closer to the lakefront.

I was happy to see a crow flying over on my first visit. I keep hoping to see more crows at home.

There are a lot of native plants and you can always count on American Goldfinches to take advantage of them.

The park has some nice water features that attract Mallards.

And the occasional heron, like this Great Blue Heron in the distance on my first visit.

Spacious, paved paths for walking and running…

I saw a few Magnolia Warblers here as I did almost everywhere last month.

And an American Redstart or two.

Below is a Blackpoll Warbler.

I almost forgot this lovely Gray-Cheeked Thrush. I have corrected the identification thanks to Vera’s comment – I thought it was a Gray-Cheeked to begin with but it was late and I was tired (or that’s my excuse for now). The heavy spotting gives it away and I don’t think the eye-ring is Swainsony enough.

This is a very pleasant destination and I will be visiting off and on throughout the year when I feel like getting out for a good walk.

One more of a Magnolia Warbler.

We just had a downpour, with more rain to come. This is very welcome indeed since I have been removing plants and planting new ones around the yard and the house. We are long overdue for a good soaking. I’ll have to check the river later in the week and see if it made any difference.

Leading Myself

I had been envisioning all week what it would be like, yesterday, to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m. and go through my normal routine of waking up my body, preparing and serving breakfast to my indoor flock, filling the feeders and changing water in the bird baths for the outdoor flock, and then getting ready to leave in time to arrive at Columbus Park and lead a walk that was to start at 7:00 a.m. I don’t organize the walks. I have been asked to “lead” this and other Saturday walks that alternatively go to Thatcher Woods in River Forest through the first Saturday in November. Leading basically means showing up, in case the organizer can’t make it. That will be the end of the “fall migration walks” and the same schedule will restart in April for spring migration.

I made several discoveries yesterday. Perhaps most important was the conclusion that I managed to arrive on time after the organizer had already advised me he couldn’t make it, I had a few moments to spare, which means I might be able to sleep maybe 20 more minutes before Saturday morning’s visit to Thatcher Woods.

So I arrived on time. And started talking to one of the golfers who use the same parking lot for access to the adjacent golf course. And I waited. I watched for cars with people getting out of them bearing binoculars. But all the cars arriving produced golf clubs. I soon came to the conclusion that I was the only person showing up for the walk. Below is a picture of what the sky looked like at that time. Maybe with the combination of clouds and no organizer, I was not enough of a draw.

Those little black dots in the clouds are Chimney Swifts.

I figured I may as well check out the park for birds anyway, all dressed up with my gear as I was, so I started walking across the lawn to the water where there were only a few Mallards. It was still quite cloudy and beyond my desire to compensate for the lack of light.

I confess I was a little leery of walking through the park so early alone. Although it has always been a safe place with others, I was not familiar enough with the spot to feel entirely confident. But then it started to lighten up, and I was hearing birds, and I figured well, I could see what was there. And I’m glad I did, because instead of following a group around – some “leader” I am – I now feel like I actually could lead a walk through Columbus Park.

Below is a video I took with my phone of Chimney Swifts flying over – it starts out mainly hearing them but then when I realized I could zoom in a bit you can actually see them. There’s also a Red-winged Blackbird singing in the beginning, for good measure.

Chimney Swifts

It began to brighten up a little, which helped the photo taking situation. It was difficult capturing the Blackpoll Warbler below in the shady portion of the park, however, but I kept trying.

I agonized over the pictures below as I was sure it was a Bay-breasted Warbler but for some reason ebird insisted it was a rare sighting for this date. I submitted my photographs and so far they have not challenged me.

I wasn’t seeing a lot of birds in the water, so I looked forward to going to the native plant garden next to a portion of it where I would likely see more birds, and I did.

Palm Warblers like the one below were expected.

I haven’t seen a lot of Tennessee Warblers this year – so it was nice to find this one.

And below, a very young-looking American Goldfinch.

On the way out I managed to capture a sneaky picture of a Wood Duck drake through some tangled branches. Also saw the resident Great Blue Heron in a well-camouflaged spot.

One more of the Tennessee Warbler

At 8:30 a.m. I felt as if I had covered the area – even though I missed a raptor I barely saw flying over. I encountered a birder who was waiting on someone to start her walk through, and we exchanged notes. Columbus Park is her go-to spot, like the Portage is mine. She may join us at Thatcher next week. I am no longer dreading these early Saturday morning rises.

I was tired, especially after having gone swimming the night before, so I took a long nap when I got home. But I am glad I managed the early start and stayed for the birds. I’m sure I would have seen more birds if I had company, but I encountered some nice, smiling runners and walkers and felt more connected to Columbus Park, which is really a beautiful place.

After the Rain – Part I

We had quite a bit of rain and it was welcome. We also had a couple very cool nights. The water level in the river improved, even if the trees still appeared a bit dried out. I went to the Portage on July 3rd to see what the birds were up to. Perhaps the most welcome sighting was of two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arguing over some Red Beebalm a/k/a monarda didyma that I had never noticed blooming at the Portage before. Indeed, I was drawn to the color first before realizing there were hummingbirds in it.

Des Plaines River

So below is a little series of what photos I was able to get. Unfortunately the bright light was not favorable to capturing the male’s gorget but it was still fun to watch the hummers. The second bird sitting in the plant was perhaps a young male…

It was getting a bit hot and humid, if I recall, so the Red-winged Blackbirds were relaxing.

And after what seemed like months of never seeing or hearing a Downy Woodpecker, they are visible again.

The Goldfinch below is heavily cropped – it was sitting quite far away. I’m beginning to think all I need is a new prescription. I finally made an eye-doctor appointment. Anyway, bright sunshine helped in this case.

And a rabbit trying to hide…

While I am happy to see Monarch Butterflies, I never see more than one at a time. This makes me very sad, to be on the verge of losing them altogether.

I generally hear a White-breasted Nuthatch every time I go, but this is one of the first I have seen in a while. It was busy scratching an itch…

Come to think of it, I hardly ever see more than one butterfly of any species these days except for Cabbage Whites…

Silvery Checkerspot

I am splitting this up into two posts because as usual I have entirely too many photographs. It was such a nice day after all the unpredictable weather and hectic social schedule made weekend birding iffy. I shall return with Part 2 shortly.

Once More with Sunshine

I went back to the Portage Sunday to see if abundant sunshine would allow me to see more birds. As it turned out, it was harder to capture most of the birds – except for the Indigo Buntings who were readily available – but in going through my photographs later I discovered the camera saw more birds than I did and I found some unexpected species. Nothing rare – it’s spring migration, so just about anybody can show up.

Vesper Sparrow

Not only was the Vesper Sparrow unexpected, but I was also surprised to see a Black-Billed Cuckoo, although I have seen them at the Portage on occasion before.

There were swallows like the day before, although not as many. I have concluded that the Northern Rough-winged Swallows fly in a more deliberate fashion which makes them easier to capture. Still I managed to snap one photo of a Barn Swallow in the lower right-hand corner.

So the Indigo Buntings were busy singing in the sunshine. I am convinced they have an artistic sense of the best places to perch for photos. I love the way this one was initially framed by the split of the tree trunk.

Male American Goldfinches are in full bloom too.

The Red-winged Blackbirds are looking a little tired of it all already.

Gray Catbird

I thought I was hearing the tail end of an Eastern Towhee’s song – and then I spotted one way up high (used to seeing them closer to the ground). Below the shots of the male is a partially visible female Eastern Towhee.

I was also hearing an Eastern Wood-Pewee for the first time this spring. I barely captured a picture of one below.

Red bird of the day turned out to be a male House Finch.

The Baltimore Orioles are busy gathering nesting material. Both female and male birds are below.

This is a really unfortunate place for a Lincoln’s Sparrow to show up but I’m glad one was on site anyway.

I walked around back by the water reclamation district and saw three Killdeer. Below is one of them.

There were quite a few Brown-headed Cowbirds. I got closer shots of the female in the grassy area by the parking lot on my way out.

So we really, really need some rain. This is how the Des Plaines looked on Saturday. You can walk down to it easily because the bottomlands are all dried out. Unfortunately because of the lack of water, there were no birds by the river.

So it wasn’t a great day for warblers, but I did manage a few pictures of a female Bay-breasted Warbler.

Can’t leave without a Robin. It’s got to be getting harder and harder to find those worms. The Robin below has a not-so-tasty-looking worm in its bill.

With a little luck I will be back with the prelude to all this before the weekend when I will likely be outside again. There is rain in the forecast but I have learned to become skeptical of the outcome. At least it is still fairly cool, but that will change too. This is all affecting my mood, to say the least. I am looking forward to swimming tonight – a sure antidote to depression.

Migrant Morning at the Portage

I had a lot of other photographs I was going to post from previous visits but they will have to wait. In spite of the rainy forecast Saturday morning, I went to the Portage and even though it was overcast, it was magical. Within a minute or two I had heard 10 bird species. I saw most of them and many more.

Perhaps the first bird I saw and heard was a Baltimore Oriole. There were easily half a dozen males staking out territories. This was the only one sitting out in the open.

I encountered a small flock of warblers fairly early. I was lucky to be able to sit on a big fallen log that has become permanent enough to attract graffiti. The opportunity to sit and look up into the trees was welcome. Below, couple Yellow-rumped Warblers.

I encountered small groups of White-Crowned Sparrows. They were delightful to see, but they weren’t singing. I have had them in my yard for a couple weeks and they have always started singing the minute I open the door. It was nice enough of these guys to pose for pictures.

I’ve been hearing Yellow Warblers for a couple weeks but hadn’t seen one yet at the Portage. But I found this one in my photos.

Yellow Warbler

And then, of course, the Indigo Buntings. I underestimated their ability to look gorgeous even in poor light.

Below is a series of Black-and-White Warblers. There have been times I haven’t been able to capture these guys and girls, so this was a real treat for me.

I think I’ve decided Hackberries are my favorite trees. The birds like them a lot, and the Portage now seems to be full of them. They are in the elm family and I suspect were planted to fill the gaps left by all the elms we lost over the years to Dutch Elm Disease.

Here’s a Black-capped Chickadee demonstrating why he likes Hackberries. They seem to attract good worms.

A few birds I would expect to see all summer…

This female American Robin looks a bit exhausted. She also appears disheveled with her brood patch.
A male American Goldfinch
Gray Catbird
Great Blue Heron flyover

There were at least 30 swallows over the water. I had three species – Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. They are all represented in the slide show below.

I looked up and saw this Scarlet Tanager. I’m going back to see if I can find another.

I always hear at least one White-Breasted Nuthatch but I haven’t seen any for quite a while. This one made up for all the ones I missed.