Last Weekend at the Portage: Coming Back to Life

I can’t believe another week has gone by already. While it seems like time should be moving slowly, I am finding it to be the opposite as my days at home fill up with work and chores. It’s as if I never left my schedule. And yet because I am home, it sometimes seems like I don’t have a schedule.

Winter returned twice this week and I was going to post a few pictures of birds in the snow but time got away from me and I’m not feeling too nostalgic for snow at the moment. It’s still chilly overnight but I think we are finally going to start warming up. And of course the question lurking right behind that is, Then What?

I went to the Portage last Saturday and Sunday mornings, because both days turned out fairly decent weather-wise. The variety of species differed somewhat between the two days, in that the Yellow-Rumped Warblers who posed for pictures and the one Ruby-Crowned Kinglet were present on Saturday but not detectable on Sunday. That sort of thing. On the other hand, I had the Bluebird on Sunday. So it goes.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler
American Robin

I’ve been seeing Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (I call them “Sappies”) in the neighborhood all week, and had one in my yard last weekend, but this is the only one I’ve been able to sort of capture so far.

There were a lot of White-Throated Sparrows, or at least more of them than the other species. Below this grouping is a short recording of one of them singing. He had a really nice version of their song, which has always been one of my favorites.

I had no idea what was going on with these Red-Winged Blackbirds on the trail as I approached them on Saturday, but on Sunday I noticed that someone has been leaving a little pile of birdseed, so that explains the gathering and likely the behavior. Feeding the animals is a no-no. But I imagine there are more people walking the trails these days than normally do, and I think that’s a good thing. Maybe we will all treasure being outside more after our quarantine subsides.

The Tree Sparrow was seen on Saturday and not on Sunday. I don’t expect to see one again until late fall.

The female Red-Wingeds have now joined the males and everybody’s ready to start working on the next generation. On Saturday I must have had more than 50 Red-Winged Blackbirds at the Portage. I don’t think I ever saw that many last year. It could be some were passing through. It will be interesting to see how many remain to nest.

There was one male Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with a couple of Mallards.

I only got a glimpse of the crown on this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Woodpeckers – there were a lot of Northern Flickers. And Downy Woodpeckers are always present. I always hear a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, but don’t always see one. It was also nice to see a Hairy Woodpecker. I keep hoping I will see a Red-Headed Woodpecker here again.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This looks like a young male Red-Winged Blackbird. He must be a late-bloomer.

Robins are everywhere.

As things are just starting to turn green, mosses were attractive.

People have been reporting Hermit Thrushes so I was happy to see one. I miss seeing half a dozen of them at once downtown in the city, but maybe it’s better to see one in the woods than a lot of them on turf grass.

Hermit Thrush

There were two Turkey Vultures flying around, at then at one point they landed in the trees.

A lovely Mrs. Cowbird. What more can I say?

The trees are starting to bud and this will all burst into green soon.

If you click on the dove pictures you can see nesting material in its bill easier.

There are a lot of Cardinals at the Portage but they’re not always easy to capture, especially this time of year when they’re busy setting up territories.

So here is the Bluebird of Happiness. I don’t get to see Bluebirds too often, so this was a special treat.

I plan to go out this weekend and with any luck, there will be even more birds to see. Migration continues, and I suspect the birds are having a better time of it without so much human interruption.

Quick Portage Check-up

I have been trying to take advantage of any better weekend weather since I got back from Mexico, specifically just to wander the Portage and see what’s going on. Last weekend, Sunday was beautiful and warm, but I had to spend the morning indoors singing in the choir, but even though I didn’t have high expectations for an afternoon walk, I thought anything might be interesting. As it turned out, I heard only a few birds and saw absolutely nothing save some Canada Geese and a Red-Tailed Hawk. I went out again yesterday morning, to take advantage of the only sunshine this weekend, and after walking for nearly half an hour to only hear a few birds, I finally caught up with a flock of foraging sparrows and the woodpeckers and Blue Jays I had been hearing.

Canada Geese – when there was open water

Yesterday’s stars were a couple Red-Bellied Woodpeckers.

The Downies were busy too.

When the flock first appeared it seemed to be mostly Dark-Eyed Juncos and White-Throated Sparrows. They weren’t particularly interested in coming any closer to me. But it was a delight to just stand still and watch the flock forage and move through. And when the sun was shining, it was nearly warm on my back. It was otherwise seasonably cold yesterday, with hardly any open water.

White-Throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Tree Sparrow – found in my photographs later

There were likely a few more cardinals around than the two I saw briefly. Below is one of them.

Northern Cardinal

One of a few storyboards along the trail…dressed in snow and ice.

And right behind the storyboard location appeared something I wasn’t expecting so late in the morning – a foraging White-Tailed Deer. I didn’t want to disturb her so after we connected with a few photographs I turned back and made my way out of the preserve.

I was surprised to turn around and see a Brown Creeper busy poking up this tree.

Throughout the morning the Blue Jays were noisily carrying on but they were quite distant when they finally appeared.

In all maybe there were four robins yesterday morning. I’m sure there’s a larger flock somewhere.

Grey Squirrel…
Song Sparrow – as at the very top of this post

I will be back soon with warmer memories from Mexico. As of this moment, it has just started snowing. In the interim, I would like to leave with a quote from Bill Penzey which I read this morning:

“When they do their best to get us to abandon all hope is when we must embrace it more tightly than ever.”

October’s End

A goal for the last two years has been to get up to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail in October to see Sandhill Cranes. October weekends were flying by with other commitments and I kept hoping for decent weather, should I attempt the trip on the last Sunday of the month. I was rewarded with available sunshine and went to investigate. I saw only 18 Cranes eventually, when there had been a few hundred reported earlier in the week, but I was lucky to have three calling raucously and flying right overhead.

My start down the eastward Hebron Trail, which is a gravel trail built on an old railroad bed, yielded a flurry of Cedar Waxwings, Robins and Starlings at the start.

Hebron Trail
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling

The more often I visit this place, the more I fall in love with it. But it takes me an hour and a half to drive up there, no matter which way I go. The first time or two I wasn’t sure I was ever going to find it, but now I know the route and the landmarks and it’s easy – just a long haul.

Not long after I reached the end of the tree-lined part of the trail, I saw this male Northern Harrier fly across the field and then maybe twenty minutes later it flew by right in front of me.

Sparrow migration is in full force and I saw plenty of sparrows to prove it. It was especially nice to see the Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. Also this was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season. Since I’m already over seeing Juncos come back, I see no problem welcoming the Tree Sparrows, as both species herald the return of colder months.

Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

There weren’t a lot of birds in the water, mainly American Coots. There were some Pied-Billed Grebes, but they were too far away to capture adequately.

American Coots

As I went through my photographs last Sunday, I realized I still had photos from my last visit back at the end of July, when I wondered if there were any Yellow-Headed Blackbirds left. I’m including some of those photos below.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird (female)
Song Sparrow
American Goldfinch
This Halloween Pennant would have been much more appropriate if I’d managed to post this last week!
Another reason why I like this place – I always see Crows!
Widow Skimmers look even better in retrospect.

A couple more of the Sandhills… My resolution for next year is to visit this place more often, maybe even closer to the peak times for certain species. Either way, it’s a beautiful place and I am happy to share it with you.

Sunshine at the Portage

Wood Duck (Male)

The sunshine yesterday made all the difference, even if it was still quite chilly in the morning. The birds were enjoying it: I didn’t have to walk in for half an hour before I started seeing birds. Indeed, the sparrows from last weekend were all feeding just past the first bridge over the creek, and several Red-Winged Blackbirds were busy proclaiming their territories. There were not a lot of waterfowl, but mixed in with the regulars were a couple nice surprises, like the Wood Duck above.

My view over the first bridge – nothing in the water, but at least it’s not frozen.

Actually the first ducks I saw were Northern Shovelers. There were two males and one female. I think they’re quite striking.

This pair of Mallards might be staying. I caught the three below flying over the river.

Red-Winged Blackbirds on display.

The first fight of the day over territory was between two Downy Woodpeckers.

American Tree Sparrows were everywhere. This is another result of the tree removal, I’m sure.

Some Song Sparrows will be staying. I kept hearing one singing, but could not find his perch. The one on the ground below will have to do for now.

There was only one pair of geese, and I’m thinking it’s the same pair I saw last week.

Cardinals were abundant, if hard to capture.

I walked down to the Des Plaines to see if there were any more ducks or maybe a heron. The sunshine illuminated the graffiti under the bridge. There were about a dozen Common Goldeneye from my vantage point, but no herons. I liked the sunlit reflection of the trees in the water.

I never take pictures of people on the trail but it was nice to see this guy out early with his son and two dogs. It’s too bad they flushed the Wood Duck, it would have been nice to show it to them. Oddly enough for the beauty of the day, they were only humans I encountered. The accompanying landscape shots are just more bare branches and water waiting to wake up.

For as many cardinals and blackbirds that have been singing, I haven’t heard a robin until this one yesterday. Soon the neighborhood robins wlll be singing at four in the morning…

I left the Portage around 10:30 and drove to McGinnis Slough where I found enough surprises to fill their own blog post, so I will be back to report in a few days… I hope you are enjoying your own version of the anticipation of spring.

Putzing Around the Portage

Too far away for a sharp image but still lovely to see.

The signs of spring are evident. Birds are moving, the days are getting longer even if we artificially shortened the morning hours, but I still needed to be reminded by the official first day of spring on the 20th. The last two weekends I have visited the Portage just to see what signs of life are emerging, however slowly. Robins are back and setting up territories in the woods as well as in my neighborhood. Red-Winged Blackbirds were audible on both visits to the Portage, if not displaying yet. Perhaps most exciting last Saturday was seeing my first Eastern Bluebird of the year, even if it was clear across the creek.

I started imagining what it must have been like before all the House Sparrows and accompanying civilization…when I envision Bluebirds ruled. Then I started reading about how Bluebirds have made a come back of sorts, thanks to people putting up nest boxes, and they prefer open fields for habitat, so as the Portage loses more trees maybe I’ll see them a bit more often there. But for the most part I don’t live near Bluebird territory.

Juncos have been photographically elusive for me this winter and last Saturday was no exception. I probably was looking at the last ones I’d see for a while. On the other hand I was surprised to see a Pine Siskin (below) but likely their occurrence in my yard this winter is part of a trend.

There were more American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows hanging out by the thawed pond than anything else.

There was open water last weekend, as opposed to the weekend before, but only one pair of Canada Geese and a Mallard or two.

Otherwise, a White-Tailed Deer, and below her, what the frozen raging Des Plaines looked like two weekends ago, from a distance.

I have only heard/seen one Red-Bellied Woodpecker so far…

My plan is to go back out tomorrow morning, when we are promised sunshine, to see if there are any more changes occurring. On my way to the train this morning, I noticed the Silver Maples are budding on the neighborhood streets. We are still flirting with a few overnight temperatures below freezing, but it looks like March will go out like a lamb.

Christmas Eve at the Portage

American Tree Sparrow

Christmas Eve morning was bright, sunny and cold. I thought the sunshine would at least bring forth a few birds, and I was right. Not many species were present, but when I finally caught up with the flock of Tree Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows, Juncos, Cardinals and Goldfinches, it was possible to get a few photographs, particularly of the Tree Sparrows. And we had very few interruptions. Unlike other times of the year, there were no runners, cyclists or dog walkers.

White-Throated Sparrow

There must have been a dozen Cardinals but they weren’t all that easy to capture. Indeed everybody seemed to be looking for as much cover as possible. It stands to reason. Without leaves on the trees there aren’t too many places you can quickly disappear to.

I’m contemplating going a bit farther afield tomorrow as I crave some open space to match the open space I feel mentally and emotionally this weekend.

A Dark-Eyed Junco escaping my focus.
A Red-Tailed Hawk sailing by.
A female American Goldfinch in a pensive moment.

Downy Woodpeckers are apt to forage along with the sparrows in the winter, looking for dormant bugs in the dead stalks. Here’s one enterprising little bird.

I hope to be back before the new year, but if I don’t manage it, best wishes for all our positive thoughts, compassion and love to come together and make a better world. I can only hope we have hit bottom or will very soon, so that the only way is up.

High Pressure

White-Throated Sparrow

It’s been a busy week and the weekend will be non-stop, so I wanted to drop in for a moment or two before I go to leave for the Christmas Bird Count this morning. I started to write this last night but knowing I had to get up at 3:30, I quit trying to finish it! These are just a few pictures from last Saturday.

I went to the Portage. It was a bright, sunny, cold day. The snow was all gone from the blizzard earlier in the week. In spite of these favorable conditions, there weren’t a lot of birds. I think I walked in for about 20 minutes before I finally started to hear and see the birds below… a Northern Cardinal who kept trying to hide, and a few White-Throated Sparrows.

The water on the Des Plaines River was flowing, so there were some Canada Geese. There were several Mallards too but they were too distant for pictures.

Above is what it looked like in my yard the previous weekend… Last Saturday after the Portage I tried to spend a little time in the yard after all the snow was gone. As long as the goldfinches are happy… Although it was hard to get a picture of them unless it was through the porch windows.

Here’s an American Tree Sparrow. I expect to see a few this morning. Weather-wise, we are warmer than we have been and we should have some sunshine, so it will be interesting to see what the bird mix is today.

American Tree Sparrow

Well, I best be on my way. Tomorrow will be a full day of singing, partying and discussion. Below is the beautiful concert poster one of our members, John Tandarich, made for tomorrow’s two performances of Ola Gjeilo’s Luminous Night of the Soul. Our choir holiday party will be afterward and then I have a Soul Connections meeting at 4:00 so I will be out all day after another early rise. 

Long Holiday Weekend…

WBNU Yard - 11-22-18-4992

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Choir tour and back-to-work notwithstanding, I feel remiss about not having managed a blog post until now. It’s not for lack of photographic experiences, but more my lack of energy and planning. What I have tried to plan to do with my four-day weekend is get in as much outdoor time as possible. Starting with Thursday…

Portage - 11-22-18-4760

 

I went to the Portage even though it was cloudy and windy. Unsurprisingly I did not see many birds and those I saw did not make taking their pictures easy. But the first capture proved to be a rare one. Apparently it’s a little late for a Field Sparrow…even if it’s not a great image the bird was unmistakable.

Field Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrows were in abundance, but still not so easy to see, along with the American Tree Sparrows.

White-Throated Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Downy Woodpeckers winter at the Portage so they tend to stand out even when they aren’t trying to.

The Portage Pillage continues. I’m not sure if these trees were invasive or in bad shape but they are gone now. The third photo below shows the shallow water frozen, prohibiting waterfowl visitors.

The female cardinal below was not staying for a better shot.

NOCA - 11-22-18-4770Only two days earlier with the prospect of sunshine in the afternoon, I managed to get out of the office for a short walk over to the Lake Street bridge to see if there were any birds in the water.

None yet except for two Mallards napping on a log. But it wasn’t the Mallards that caught my attention – it was a bump on the log that created an optical illusion, looking very much like a Whip-Poor-Will on my camera. It wasn’t until I viewed the photographs on my computer that I realized this was a natural sculpture. So desperate was I to see a bird!

I will always be able to count on the Herring Gulls, even in the slow gaps between migrations…

HEGU - 11-20-18-4731Returning to Thursday, the sun came out in the early afternoon, which gave me a chance to visit with the birds in the yard. I can always count on an abundance of House Sparrows.

One of two male cardinals…

NOCA Yard - 11-22-18-4963I was pleased to see six American Goldfinches.

But my best subjects were a pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches. I haven’t seen them for a long time, but that’s likely only because their favorite time to visit is around 1:30 in the afternoon, when I am usually at work. The females have a grayer cap, otherwise they are pretty indistinguishable.

I’m glad to see that some of those spilled sunflower seeds are still worth eating…

NOCA Yard - 11-22-18-5032One more of a nuthatch.

WBNU Yard - 11-22-18-4989I went to Jasper-Pulaski with my friend Lesa yesterday to see all the Sandhill Cranes I missed when they flew over the Chicago area the last couple weeks. I’ll be back shortly with some of that spectacle. If you are caught up in a holiday weekend, I hope it is going well!

 

McGinnis Slough and A Weekend of Prayer

SWSP - 11-3-18-4358

Swamp Sparrow

I gave in to the prospect of the only nice weekend weather Saturday morning before my dentist appointment and went to McGinnis Slough. Reports of waterfowl seen a day or two before reminded me it was time to renew my relationship with this favorite destination, and the prospect of fall colors made it even more enticing. So now it will be a month or longer, looking back on fall from winter soon, by the time I get around to the last organized bird walk weekend.

The moment I got out of the car I felt restored. I was the only human and could temporarily forget about the whir of traffic noise nearby.

McGinnis - 11-3-18-4099There were still a few Red-Winged Blackbirds hanging out, singing.

RWBL - 11-3-18-4107In addition to a lot of Swamp Sparrows, there was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season, the arrival of which always reminds me of winter coming…

I was not expecting to see Yellow-Rumped Warblers…or orange conifers…but apparently both exist together. I think the tree is an American Larch or something like that, which turns yellow or orange in the fall.

YRWA - 11-3-18-4291And of course the waterfowl. Below, a view of only a couple hundred of 850 American Coots. Or so I calculated…

Hundreds of Coots - 11-3-18-4332And here are two cute Coots up closer.

AMCO - 11-3-18-4423There was a nice little group of Green-Winged Teal…

and quite a few Northern Shovelers, although I could not seem to get a good photo of the flashier male

NOSH - 11-3-18-4231At one point two Mute Swans flew overhead. The second time they weren’t entirely mute and I thought they sounded a bit like Snow Geese so they had me fooled for a minute, but my photographs later said Swans.

The Coot below was enjoying the early sunshine, and so was I, but the clouds started to move in quickly after that.

AMCO - 11-3-18-4114

Plant life taking on fall form…

A Wood Duck was close enough for a photo but by then the sun was hiding.

WODU - 11-3-18-4417A few more of the Yellow-Rumpeds and the tree they were in.

Another Shoveler…

NOSH - 11-3-18-4128The trees looking windswept and leafless…

Trees at McGinnis - 11-3-18-4122Sunday morning the choir sang two services, singing “Somebody Prayed for Peace” and “Sweet Freedom” which is based on the national anthem. Afterward I went to city hall for early voting, deciding that it might not be such a bad thing to try, even though I live half a block from my polling place. As I sat in the gallery section of council chambers waiting my turn at the voting machine, I was reminded of sitting in a church pew and struck by the metaphor of voting as a form of prayer.

Random contributions from my new cell phone…the leaves are from one of the towering Sycamore trees I passed this morning on my way to the train, the salad consumed yesterday features the last of my cherry tomatoes, and beneath all that, one experiment in my new Saturday tradition which is to have one midday meal of scrambled eggs and onions and whatever else I’m looking to use up…in this instance, even some stale pita chips. Food as a form of prayer.

One more landscape from McGinnis and a Red-Winged Blackbird looking thoughtful.

This coming weekend will be very busy with the choir tour. I hope to return to this page soon afterward.

Owls at the Portage

GHOW 04-08-18-9007Last year two fellows I run into occasionally at the Chicago Portage, Steve and Mike, told me they had seen a Great Horned Owl. I believe it was Mike who showed me his stunning photo of the owl sitting on a stump over the water. But I never saw the owl until two weeks ago making my return trip on the trail that runs along the south side of the stream, when I flushed it and watched it fly to perch in a tree on the other side.

Then last weekend I saw two owls perched on the same branch, looking down at me. The first owl decided to take off when I lifted the camera, but the second owl sat there and stared sleepily at me.

GHOW 04-22-18-0989So are they a pair? Most likely. I suspect the first owl is the female as it is larger. Then I wonder if they have a nest somewhere or if they’re shopping for one. Will I see baby owls? It’s more excitement than I can handle at the moment. But I do suspect that the owls’ presence will keep the other raptors I normally expect to see at the Portage away.

The Portage keeps changing. More trees coming down. I was saddened to see one of my two favorite birch trees in smaller pieces. I can’t imagine what was wrong with it.

I have seen Blue-Winged Teal the last two visits as well. I suspect they’re just visiting though and will go elsewhere to breed.

And a Canada Goose seems to have found her nesting spot in tree trunk.

CAGO 04-22-18-0877

Two weekends ago, it was Golden-Crowned Kinglets…

Last weekend there were a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers, although only one captured by the camera.

YRWA 04-22-18-0962

I was very happy to see a Tree Swallow last weekend.

Not so many sparrow species. Song and Fox Sparrows, still a few Juncos, and American Tree Sparrows still hanging on through the cold not-quite-spring-weather-yet.

Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow above, Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow below…

Woodpeckers: Downy, Red-Bellied, Northern Flicker…