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.

Song Sparrow

Here’s what a Magnolia Warbler might look like straight above you. Below I have grouped several views of the “Maggies” who always seem to engage with the camera.

There were some barely-there birds…

Blue Jay
Female Cape May Warbler
Female Downy Woodpecker

With one more Magnolia Warbler photo, I am done with this post. We are going to get warm over the next few days. I wish I didn’t have to work, it would be ideal weather to see more birds. But the somewhat crummy weather this morning created conditions for some nice encounters with beautiful birds. I really can’t complain.

Notes from the Thaw

This post started out last weekend when we could finally see the promise of large piles of snow melting. I went to the Portage but didn’t get very far, the trails were not really passable in my estimation. And I was hardly even hearing any birds. So I focused on trying to get a few pictures of the birds in the yard. The American Goldfinches have been enjoying the thistle socks filled with new nyjer. The Downy Woodpecker below was likely tired of trying to drill into frozen suet so he was sampling from the peanut feeder instead.

I finally got to see why there was an unusual accumulation of peanut shells under the squirrel peanut feeder. Because of all the snow and cold, it wasn’t practical to waste energy taking peanuts away from the feeder and maybe stashing them for later, so the squirrels have been hanging upside down eating them as they take them.

So here’s what the Portage looked like last weekend, at least as far as I got.

Creatures using the snow pack as habitat – self-styled igloos. I had some rats doing this in my yard, unfortunately. I don’t mind the field mice but I am sure my neighbors are not fond of rats.

Below is how the Portage looked yesterday. Still some snow, but not so bad. Bright and sunny, and even a few birds, although more heard than seen. I did see maybe 10 Red-winged Blackbirds but they were too far away to photograph. I heard them first. Some Robins were returning as well.

Otherwise uninterrupted blue sky.

A nice-looking European Starling…

I heard this Brown-headed Cowbird singing before I saw him. Not easy to capture high up in this tree but his cap is glistening in the sun.

In the Des Plaines River, pretty far away, were several Common Goldeneye. I am surprised I was able to capture them – I seem to be having issues with macular degeneration in my right eye so it’s getting harder to focus. Time to make an appointment with the ophthalmologist. (Yikes – I thought I was a good speller but I just had to re-learn that word. More h’s than I imagined.) I vaguely remember him suggesting there were remedies if it started getting worse.

A Mallard couple in the river.

I was trying to follow a goose flying around looking for a way to join the geese and mallards in the marshy area of the Portage that had sufficiently melted. I was delighted to find I captured the median coverts on the wings flapping up to slow down for landing.

One more thoughtful pose from last week’s Goldfinches.

We are going to have a few days in the 60’s before we settle back into the 40’s and 50’s. The overnight temperatures still prohibit things like setting up the rain barrels and cleaning up the dead stalks where pollinators are still taking cover. But the hostas are starting to emerge green from the ground. The snow pack made the compost pile that much more beautiful – I admit I had no idea what would be going on underneath it. I’m going to clean up under the feeders today and look forward to more arrivals at the Portage next weekend. I hope your March is going well so far. In spite of everything, spring has a way of insisting upon renewal.

Snow Upon Snow: Cold, Snowy Continuum at the Home Front

It seems like it will never stop snowing. And it’s generally been too cold to stay outside for very long. I am not good with the camera if I’m wearing gloves, let alone mittens. So several of these photographs were taken from the porch through the screened windows.

The first significant snowfall – it was still January.

Two pairs of Northern Cardinals have been hanging out in the yard regularly. It’s always nice to see them. They tend to show up as a group later in the day when they are less visible to predators. Or at least I think that’s their strategy.