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.

I kept waiting for this Northern Flicker to fly so I might capture its golden shafts but it was definitely not going anywhere.

I never know when I will see a pair of Northern Cardinals. In this case I think she was waiting for him.

I spent the longest time behind this bird photographing it without identifying it. Backlit and alone on the path in front of me, it seemed unfamiliar. I have now decided it’s a Brown-headed Cowbird. I think I have never seen one in the cold before – in other words, it was so fluffed up I couldn’t recognize it.

There are a few American Goldfinches at the Portage. Here’s one, early on in my walk, looking rather cold.

If you stood in the right spot on the trail where I suspect asphalt will be going in, it was possible to see American Tree Sparrows everywhere. At some point one sat and started singing, and I tried to record him over a lot of noise. I did manage to get a couple recordings, as faint as they are, and they are below this photograph. I heard one singing earlier this year and compared it to the recording on my Sibley cell phone app which was made in Alaska, where they breed.

I did manage to take too many pictures of American Tree Sparrows fading into their surroundings.

I almost forgot, a Killdeer landed in the marsh and this was the best I could do through the vegetation.

I was delighted to find a Fox Sparrow in my photographs. I don’t remember taking these pictures. My camera remembered well, though.

I couldn’t help but notice the duckweed staging a comeback.

Messing around in the marshy area were a few female Red-winged Blackbirds.

And I was taken with this pretty little Song Sparrow.

On the way out, I saw the pair of Eastern Bluebirds again, only this time there was better light. They were quite far away for the most part but I tried to at least capture some of that blue.

The closer photos were of the female who is drabber in plumage but I think she is lovely nonetheless.

Perhaps the birds of the day were the American Tree Sparrows. I suspect that with the warmer winds we are now experiencing, they will be moving up north and this could have been the last time to see them.

I was going to add some photographs from March 15 – but other than the fact that it was not a sunny day, which clashes with the theme, this seems like quite enough for now. It’s rainy today and we have one more rainy day tomorrow, so I am going to try to finish taking care of some things that I keep putting off and I will be back as soon as I can get it together.

One more of the Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Sunshine Returns

It’s very cold today and it looks like tomorrow will be the same – below freezing in the morning – but the sun is shining and it’s not too windy, so that makes up for almost everything. I haven’t put my long underwear away quite yet. And it was good to be wearing more substantial boots this morning as they are warmer than the hikers.

The view from the bridge
The shallow water is a bit frozen

Things started out pretty slow with a couple Song Sparrows on the trail. There were a few Northern Cardinals behind too many branches to bother with.

When I approached the marshy area on the other side of the second bridge, which is the path that has been marked by the surveyor, I saw a lot of American Tree Sparrows – at least 20 – and that also seemed to be where the Red-winged Blackbirds were hanging out too. I concentrated on the sparrows.

On my way back heading out, I saw a pair of Eastern Bluebirds.

They were nearly too far away to photograph but I kept trying and took too many photos.

That was about it for this morning, save a pair of Canada Geese in the icy water.

By contrast, ten days earlier there was less light. Here are some leftovers from March 17. It was the last time I saw the Lesser Scaup.

I had a Brown Creeper that morning. I’m surprised the camera picked it up at all, it blended in so well.

I also had a very cooperative Black-capped Chickadee.

I got lucky with this Dark-eyed Junco who almost seems to be smiling.

No Mallards today, but I had a shiny drake on the 17th.

I will likely go back to the Portage again tomorrow to see if there are any changes. I had the place all to myself save one man who was walking and talking on his cell phone. I would like to think that no matter how many improvements they make, the Chicago Portage will still be an escape-to place and I won’t have to travel too far from my backyard.

Pave the Portage?

I visited the Chicago Portage yesterday morning. It was cold and cloudy, but not as cold or windy as today. I decided to stay inside today and wait for the clouds and winds to pass. At least tomorrow promises sunshine.

Cloudy vistas are limited by rooftops in my neighborhood so at least I get to see a bit more of the sky when I visit here.

There were American Robins in the grass close to the parking lot. Although not in focus, I decided to include this photograph which I took when I noticed the Robins sport practically the same colors as my vehicle.

The next bird I barely saw turned out to be an American Tree Sparrow when I lightened up the photos.

The Portage water didn’t appear much different from previous visits.

But it wasn’t long before I noticed that the only other vehicle that had been in the parking lot when I arrived was now on the inside trail across from where I stood. A man had gotten out of it with various and sundry articles including surveying equipment.

While I had stopped to keep my eye on him, some Northern Flickers struck up preliminary courtship behavior in the tree in front of me. The lack of good light makes these photos pretty unspectacular but you can still see the golden shafts.

I approached the incline and noticed a Song Sparrow foraging up at the top of it which put me almost at eye level with the ground.

I didn’t expect to see many birds, so I was not disappointed. The Lesser Scaup I had been seeing was gone. I hope he found his way. There were actually no birds in the water save a pair of Mallards I saw later on the other side. They appear distantly in the photo below

For what it’s worth, the bottomlands by the river are flooded. I didn’t bother to walk on the other side of the hole in the fence.

As I walked around toward the other side, I heard what sounded like Kinglets and then encountered one Golden-crowned Kinglet. Unfortunately the lack of light did not do it any justice at all.

For what it’s worth, I recorded a Purple Finch singing, although I didn’t see it but it was nice to hear.

When I caught up to the man with the surveying equipment, he was marking spots on the unpaved train with bright pink powder. I asked him what he was doing. He responded that he was working. I told him appreciated that, but then asked if he knew why he was doing what he was doing. He responded that they never tell him, but he opined that perhaps they were going to install asphalt over the dirt trail. I surmised “they” is the Cook County Forest Preserves. His “guess” appeared probable.

A Dark-eyed Junco on the existing asphalt trail

My first thought was how the addition of asphalt would interrupt spring migration and perhaps even the breeding season. I was not happy, but I did not take my frustration out on the surveyor who was only doing his job. We exchanged the proverbial “have a nice day.”

I started wondering if perhaps this was inspired by the additional visitors that this place has attracted over the length of the pandemic. And then I started envisioning more bikes coming through. I suppose asphalting this portion of the trail would also make it more wheelchair accessible, which is a noble endeavor, but I am still not happy. However, it occurred to me that I resented the pavement extending from both entrances and new bridges that were put in years ago, and somehow, the birds and the plants have survived.

Obviously the birds would rather have gravel than asphalt. I thought about getting myself over to the Portage this morning to talk with the volunteers about all this but concluded that they are powerless and possibly clueless as they might not know any more than the surveyor did. I will be going back often enough to see what actually happens.

The American Tree Sparrow before it flew down to the gravel path

There was a period of sunshine and a distant Cooper’s Hawk against the bluer sky.

I managed to capture a Downy Woodpecker looking dapper.

On the way out I barely captured a White-breasted Nuthatch.

I conclude with one in-focus American Robin. I will be back eventually with more developments on this story and in the meantime with a little historical fare.

Three Portage Visits

There has been a Lesser Scaup at the Chicago Portage for over a week. I first saw him on March 4 and have seen him on every visit since, including this morning. He seems to be content to hang out and has managed to evade predation. I find him an irresistible subject, even if most of the time he is somewhat far away.

This is a rather long post encapsulating what transpired on my walks at the Portage on the 4th, the 8th and the 10th of March. Immediately below are more photos of the Lesser Scaup from March 4 when I first discovered him.

The 4th was the first time I heard and saw male Red-winged Blackbirds here.

European Starlings are usually way at the top of the trees across the stream from where I am standing, but these two surprised me by being on my side for a change.

Robins are starting to return to the Portage and my neighborhood. They just started singing.

There wasn’t a lot happening on March 4, but it was a sunny day at least.

This young deer was too close and fearless.

Then on March 8, things were a bit more interesting. It started with Downy Woodpeckers chasing around.

I hadn’t gone too far before I saw what I believe to be the local pair of Bald Eagles perched on the electric utility structure. I can’t remember the last time I saw them here but it seems like at least two years.

When I got a bit closer, there was only one eagle perched. I then saw the other flying close by.

It was a beautiful morning.

I kept taking photos of this Red-winged Blackbird as he sang. I don’t know why I have them all here, he didn’t change his position much. But you can hear what he sounded like below.

Song Sparrows could be seen foraging on the ground near the trail.

The Lesser Scaup was present.

On my way out, I encountered three young, lost-looking deer.

And then out on the front lawn, a dead doe that had been ravaged by some beast, likely a coyote. I suspect it was the parent of the three youngsters. I decided to spare you the gorier photos on my cell phone.

As I walked to my car I encountered two Cook County Forest Preserves workers who had come to investigate and clean up. When I drove by about twenty minutes later after running an errand close by, the lawn had been cleared of the carcass.

I began making a connection in my mind between the feeding of the deer and this terrible incident and decided to talk to the man who has been distributing peanuts the next time I saw him.

So I went back to the Portage on March 10. It was a cloudy day and pretty cold.

Sometimes an American Robin will just stare me down.

The Lesser Scaup was still there.

The views that always catch my eye, looking pretty much the same two days later.

An adult Bald Eagle flew over in the distance.

Everybody was down on the ground looking for food, including two White-breasted Nuthatches. I think the one on the tree is a female and the one on the path the male. I wonder if he was going after what looked to me like part of a peanut on the trail.