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.

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Two weekends ago, it was Golden-Crowned Kinglets…

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

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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…

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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Northern Flicker

A few more captures before I go… White-Breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, preening Mallard, American Goldfinch.

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Brown-headed Cowbird

These pictures were all taken on April 8 and April 22. Unfortunately I don’t expect I’ll be getting near the Portage again until May 12 when I’m leading a small group on a bird walk as my donation to the fundraising member auction for Unity Temple. Until then, I will be traveling at a slower pace. Yesterday I had stem cell replacement therapy on my right knee. The procedure itself was not too awful, indeed I told the physician that his description of what he was about to do to me was far worse than the actual operation and I am hopeful recovery goes smoothly. I’m feeling better than last night: I woke up with very little pain, so now it’s more a matter of keeping stable using crutches for a couple more days to keep weight off the joint whenever I can. I’m looking forward to the final portion of the therapy on Tuesday which involves a simple plasma injection. If the weather is nice, which it is predicted to be, I will be spending the time in between blood draw and later injection birding North Pond and the Peggy Notebaert Museum grounds, a local birding hotspot right across the street from the medical building. I couldn’t have picked a better location to have this done!

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Spring Stirrings at the Portage

RWBL 03-04-18-6599I visited the Portage a couple weekends ago to see how many Red-Winged Blackbirds were returning to set up territories: one of the signs that spring is inevitable, which I can mentally check off every year. I hadn’t been over there for a few weeks so it was time to see how things were starting to change.

Moss 03-04-2018-6532There was only a tiny bit of green happening. For the most part the browns and greys were still in charge although the angle of the light is changing.

Portage 03-04-18-6609Predictably there were a lot of Canada Geese.

CAGO 03-04-18-6812Then there were the territorial disputes…and flyovers.

The Portage surprises me when I least expect it to. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an Eastern Bluebird there before but there was one two weeks ago.

More than one Killdeer suggests a potential breeding pair…?

Sparrow-wise, one of several American Tree Sparrows likely on their way out, and a Savannah Sparrow on its way in…although I don’t think the Portage has opened up enough to attract breeding Savannah Sparrows.

ATSP 03-04-18-6738SASP 03-04-18-6765Northern Cardinals are here all year long but it’s always nice to see them. One Dark-Eyed Junco tried to steal the scene in the upper right-hand picture below.

A few more of Red-Winged males and Canada Geese, back on their home turf to start new families. There is something reassuring about certain things that don’t change, especially lately.

And I could not resist a picture of our most ubiquitous resident, American Robin.

AMRO 03-04-18-6788I haven’t decided yet where to go tomorrow but it looks like the weather will be warm and sunny so we’ll see what happens. We’ve had cold and windy weather all week so it should be a nice break for all of us. My mother always used to call March the “Adolescent Month.” I think there’s still a little snow in the forecast next week although it likely won’t be much… Fingers crossed. 🙂

Fog Settles In

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Northern Cardinal outside my house this morning

Inertia beckons. The fog was thick on Thursday when I visited Millennium Park, but it was even thicker this morning when Lesa and I decided to try birding the Palos area.

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Downy Woodpecker, McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough was fairly quiet except for Canada Geese that kept flying over. We did see the outline of perhaps 500 or so in the water except we could barely make out their shapes in the fog. There were American Tree Sparrows on the ground not far from the parking lot.

We did manage to see several Common Mergansers at the south end of the preserve. The shot of the geese flying overhead gives you an idea of how foggy it was.

We drove over to the Little Red Schoolhouse to see birds at the feeders, if nothing else, and true to Lesa’s prediction, there were two Tufted Titmice.

We also had our only White-Throated Sparrow at the Schoolhouse. There’s an American Tree Sparrow behind it.

wtsp-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6504Perhaps the brightest feature at the Schoolhouse was the fungus growing below.

fungus-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6520Here are a few pictures from Thursday, downtown at Millennium Park. There are perhaps 20 or 30 White-Throated Sparrows distributed in several areas. Below are two that came for the birdseed I had brought with me.

American Robins are starting to show up here and there. They never really go completely away but they associate loosely in flocks in the winter.

European Starlings are returning too. They used to overwinter but the last few years I have noticed their absence, so they must be migrating a bit for a while.

eust-millennium-1-19-17-6359Those tough year-round city natives, Rock Pigeons, are always somewhere in the Loop. Below, two pied pigeons.

Individually they’re really unique. But I have to be careful not to pay too much attention to them or they’ll think I’m going to feed them.

pied-pigeons-millennium-1-19-17-6380This Robin was interesting too. How much color can I get out of any bird in this light?

amro-millennium-1-19-17-6341The forecast is for cooler temperatures, rain turning to snow, winter isn’t over yet. But this week I heard some bird song from a Black-Capped Chickadee, an American Robin and a Northern Cardinal. That gives me hope.

Chicago Portage: A January Thaw the Day after Christmas

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

It was raining and cloudy when I woke up this morning and the forecast as read on the radio didn’t sound too promising, but then the clouds appeared to be clearing and I had no more reasons to dawdle, so I set out for the Portage.

My timing was right – there were a lot of sparrows and three species of woodpecker which isn’t phenomenal but one, a Hairy, I hadn’t seen in a while so that was special.

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Hairy Woodpecker

There was a lot of fungus growing everywhere which made me realize just how much life goes on in spite of the cold and snow.

Northern Cardinals were abundant but distant, even with the long lens. I don’t know what happened with my setting on the right, I am unaware of changing anything but I must have hit a button somewhere, but maybe the contrast is interesting anyway, seeing as how the sparrows were blending in with everything.

American Tree Sparrows were most abundant.

This was the only Dark-Eyed Junco that didn’t fly away immediately.

deju-12-26-16-5797Several hardy little Song Sparrows surviving our surprise winter.

sosp-12-26-16-5669A couple pictures of the thaw. No birds in the water but some flew over as if considering it.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker was enjoying the sunshine.

rbwp-12-26-16-5859Milkweed pods almost looking like birds hanging from their stalks.

milkweed-portage-thaw-12-26-16-5942It was wonderful to be out. I had the place virtually to myself and it felt like home again. I made an early resolution to spend more time in these woods, to bear witness to the changes of the seasons, the habitat, and the inhabitants.

Chicago Portage Surprise

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Blue-Winged Teal

I went to the Portage last Sunday and meant to report back earlier but the work week got the better of me. So while I am sitting here sharing the sunshine with the indoor crowd and not feeling too bad about it since there’s about a quarter of an inch of snow on the ground from last night…

The Blue-Winged Teal at the top of the post were swimming around when I first saw them but as I tried to get unobstructed views to photograph, they flushed, and sadly the best picture I got was of two in flight. I hate flushing birds but as I progressed along the path I think all 8 of them would have left anyway.

It’s still surprising to me to see people working on Sunday, but there these guys were, working on the new shelter right off the parking lot.

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With the unseasonal weather confusion, still seeing some winter species like the American Tree Sparrow below.

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American Tree Sparrow

I took the photos of these two female ducks before identifying them. The one on the left appears to be a female American Black Duck. The one on the right, however, appears to be a hybrid American Black Duck-Mallard female. It took me a while to figure out the second one. My reasoning for the ID on the second one is the plumage.

There was also one Canada Goose sitting in the water but so still she appeared to be sitting on a nest.

An Eastern Phoebe was my first of the year at the Portage. Even though I saw this bird in two locations I suspect it’s the same one.

Such was the grayness of the day that even pieces of wood appeared to be possibly alive.

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Below, two Mallards dabbling in their bottoms-up fashion and a male Mallard.

There were a few American Goldfinches present, none showing any more color than the one below.

And there are always Downy Woodpeckers.

American Robins are always here too, only now beginning to look fancy.

An average day at the Portage, perhaps. But then The Big Surprise occurred as I approached the parking lot and this Bald Eagle flew over my head. It appears to be an immature bird, Bald Eagles attaining their adult plumage after about five years, so the head, for instance, is not completely white.

But to see a Bald Eagle in my neighborhood – well, it is around the Des Plaines River, but still, barely a mile and a half from where I live – this is really amazing to me. Apparently not unusual, though, because when I reported it to ebird my sighting was not questioned.

BAEA  04-03-2016-5337Below is another shot of the Eastern Phoebe. I love these birds, they’re so cooperative.

EAPH 04-03-2016-5231I owe you one more post from Nicaragua and then maybe the snow will melt for good and we can get started with spring!

Yard Birds

DOWP 1-24-16-0197Not much going on around here. Dull days of winter. But whenever there’s the occasional bright and sunny day, and Sunday was one of them, one must get outside, so before I went for an afternoon walk with Lesa at Miller Meadow, I sat out in the yard albeit rather uncomfortably on an overturned trash can, to be far away enough from the feeders so the birds would come back in, and come back in they did.

First to lead the charge was a female Downy Woodpecker, taking advantage of the fact that the crowd had not arrived yet.

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Then I saw the White-Breasted Nuthatch who has been visiting this winter, and no sooner did I suggest to him that he bring a friend than a second one appeared, perhaps a female although not easy to tell from these pictures. I think in the second photo below, the female is on the feeder with the House Sparrow above and the male is on the peanut feeder, the male having more prominent black on the crown and nape.

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WBNH 1-24-16-0243This is also the first time I’ve seen these birds on the seed feeders.

WBNH and HOFI 1-24-16-0235WBNH 1-24-16-0290One little Dark-Eyed Junco showed up although I’m afraid due to distance and shadows I didn’t do him much justice.

DEJU 1-24-16-0299There was also one American Tree Sparrow. I think there may have been another one but since I never saw the two at once I can’t be sure. Even in my own little yard birding gets tricky!

ATSP 1-24-16-0314This Tree Sparrow likes the attention.

ATSP 1-24-16-0331After I got back inside, a male Downy Woodpecker flew onto the peanut feeder and I managed to capture this soft-looking image through the window screen.

DOWP 1-24-16-0377Disclaimer and/or Apology Time: Other than work, weather and choir singing distractions I confess to being mesmerized by the current Bernie phenomenon, which only adds to staring-at-a-screen time (I never followed anything like this before, but different stories appear depending on what device you’re using, making for even more distraction).

I got rid of my land line and my cable service last week, but none of that has helped my focus.

(The walk at Miller Meadow in the afternoon was delightful and we saw some birds but they were too far away to photograph. Nothing unusual to report…yet!)

Two Days into 2016

ATSP 1-1-16-9216Well, this is the 3rd day, but this post is about the birds I was able to photograph on Friday and Saturday.

New Year’s Day was chilly and gloomy, until the sun came out early in the afternoon and I was compelled to see what birds were in the yard. My FOY (first of year) bird was a Downy Woodpecker when I went out to fill the feeders earlier. But in the afternoon, the new yardbirds for the year were two American Tree Sparrows.

Tree Sparrows have visited the yard before in previous winters, but they are always a welcome surprise after the usual cavalcade of House Sparrows. This pair started out taking cover in the dogwood but then became rather relaxed and started foraging about on the snow.

Others in attendance and photographable were four Downy Woodpeckers, the White-Breasted Nuthatch, a Black-Capped Chickadee, and four Dark-Eyed Juncos. The lack of light became a bit of a problem, though, especially with the Juncos.

Then yesterday morning I decided it was time to see what was happening at the Chicago Portage. If nothing else, the sun was shining brightly, eventually even taking the chill away temporarily when the breeze subsided. I could not help but be a noisy presence as the snow on the path covered a substantial layer of frozen ice, so I crunched my way through every step. In spite of my intrusion, the Northern Cardinal males were more than happy to pose in the bright sunshine as long as they felt sufficiently obstructed by a few twigs here and there.

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There were also plenty of American Tree Sparrows and Dark-Eyed Juncos, plus a good representation of American Goldfinches. Although geese and mallards flew overhead there were no waterfowl in the mostly frozen water.

I headed out to the Palos area afterward to see if I could find any ducks but the entrances to parking weren’t even open and there were no water birds to be seen.

When I got home I noticed this Mourning Dove sitting on the neighbor’s ham radio antenna across the street.

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Today is gray and chilly, so maybe I can start working on the leftover resolutions I’ve been carrying with me for the past year…

DOWP 1-1-16-9028Happy New Year to all from me and my bird friends. Savor the present, relish your memories wisely and do not fear the future but embrace possibility. Just a thought! I’ll let you know when we write a song about it. 🙂

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Christmas Bird Count Tidings from Fermilab

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American Tree Sparrow

It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t snowing. It was predictably very cold and I had harbored second thoughts about taking the camera with me. But after all, the Christmas Bird Count happens only once a year. And even if I am ever-so-slightly wondering if I’m still doing things the old-fashioned way when there is probably new cutting-edge equipment that is easier to use in inclement weather, I persevered.  Resigned to the fact that if there was anything worthwhile to shoot I’d probably have to remove the gloves and deal with the frostbite later.

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So here are a few photos from my morning with one of the three teams assigned to various areas for the count.

There are always more Canada Geese and Mallards than one can count individually so you wind up doing estimates. And scanning through the crowd to see if there are any different species. Somewhere in this group were three Greater White-Fronted Geese, a couple Common Mergansers and I forget what else at this point. Not allowed to count the geese when they’re in the air.

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It took awhile before we found the inevitable American Tree Sparrow flocks. This flock had an American Goldfinch with it.

And at one point we had a coyote who was easy to see if hard to get a decent picture.

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There is a wood lot not far from the Red Barn where we always go traipsing through quietly looking for owls. There is a lot of undergrowth between the pines that presents a challenge just to find a way to walk through it. I never find anything. I was looking down at a lot of frozen mushrooms underfoot that unfortunately were not captured by my ginormous lens. Then I stopped and looked up. And there it was. A Long-Eared Owl, staring at me.

Although the owl was very cooperative, it was backlit, it was dark in there, and a lot of twigs blocked my view (the owl knew all this, of course). After I took enough pictures that would at least prove what I saw, I tried to find someone in my group to tell about it. By the time I did, I had no idea exactly where I saw it. The guys went in to find it and flushed it. I felt as if I had betrayed the owl, but the owls we saw in other spots, mainly Great Horned, were also flushed, so I guess we get one day a year to disturb them for science.

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Not much else to report at the moment. Singing tonight with the Unity Temple Choir for a Christmas Eve service. Looking forward to a nice, quiet Christmas Day at home with the birds. Thanks for visiting, and have a very merry holiday!

Day 3 of a Precious 4-Day Weekend

NOCA Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7289After a very pleasant Thanksgiving dinner with friends, by the time I’m done with the normal weekend stuff, albeit at a more relaxed pace, the huge to-do list I planned to revive looks less inviting. Maybe I’m doing nothing remarkable these four days except hanging out with the home crowd and making a serious dent in a hundred pounds of accumulated junk mail, magazines I’ll never read and sizing up my response to those end-of-year donation requests which seemed to start arriving in May.

Mallards Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7265But I have a few photos from my last visit to the Chicago Portage to share. This was two weeks ago before I spent much of last weekend preparing to sing in choirs and doing so. I have noticed one thing about singing: if I decide to vocalize and practice before I leave, all the birds join in, which means they know a thing or two about singing in unison that maybe I don’t.

Green-Winged Teal

Green-Winged Teal

Green-Winged Teal Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7223I have plans to go out tomorrow morning, as the best light and weather for the weekend are predicted, and while I never go with great expectations I hope I’m ready for surprises. If nothing else I need to keep in practice holding the monster lens. I am now looking forward to taking it with me to Nicaragua at the end of February for another episode of Operation Rubythroat.

Mallards Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7124Mallards Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7109Mallard Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7117I was happy to see the White-Breasted Nuthatch again, having missed even hearing it for quite a while, even if I didn’t get that great a picture.

WBNU Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7392Also a very cooperative but backlit Lincoln’s Sparrow.

LISP Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7131Many of the birds were too far away even for the monster lens.

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American Goldfinch taking a sip of water

And the best I could do with my first American Tree Sparrow of the season was its head.

American TRSP Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7306The Fox Sparrow below was incredibly backlit until it decided to leave.

FOSP Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7401Perhaps the trees’ reflection in the water says it all.

Chicago Portage 11-15-2015 -7364And if you’re a female Mallard on a dead log you can get away with anything.

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Safe Passage @ The Portage

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

I got out for a walk this morning, encouraged by the promise of sunshine and also beginning to feel more like I was walking instead of thinking about every step to the exclusion of everything else. It’s been bothering me that I missed the Christmas Bird Count at Fermilab last weekend, so when I passed by Cermak Woods on the way home yesterday from grocery shopping, I noticed a lot of Canada Geese were gathered there, and decided to go back and count them this morning. It’s not an official count, of course, but the data all goes into ebird anyway.

Canada Geese at Cermak Woods

Canada Geese at Cermak Woods

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Likely a family group the way they were swimming

The sunshine was late in coming but so was I, yet it didn’t seem to matter. There were roughly 100 Canada Geese at Cermak Woods. No Greater White-Fronted Geese, no Cackling Geese, not even a Mallard or two. But I was encouraged by the fact that I managed to operate the camera and the huge lens, having fallen out of practice. So I continued on to the Chicago Portage.

American Tree Sparrows at the Portage

American Tree Sparrows at the Portage

Am Tree Sparrows Portage Woods 12-28-14-9422

All was quiet at the Portage until I started to walk slowly in from the south entrance which is my usual approach. I heard Black-Capped Chickadees and then began seeing lots of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-Eyed Juncos, a few American Goldfinches, and I had some White-Throated Sparrows in there too.

The last time I went to the Portage there were a lot of Tree Sparrows. I cannot ever remember seeing them at the Portage in previous years, so this must definitely have to do with the removal of trees changing the habitat to suit them.

Canada Geese at Portage Woods

Canada Geese at Portage Woods

Geese started arriving at the Portage in groups shortly after I did. Since they were flying in from a direction opposite where I’d come from at Cermak Woods and they were landing in the water, I started counting them as they came in. If it were not for the BirdLog Application, I could never do this, but it’s very handy. The only thing hampering my efficacy at this point was the fact that it was cold. I had on long underwear but my hands were pretty chilly, especially every time I removed my gloves to enter more birds to the count. There were a total of five Mallards mixed in with about 100 geese.

Mallards with Canada Geese at the Portage

Mallards with Canada Geese at the Portage

I thought I heard Fox Sparrows, and then was lucky enough to get a recital from the bird below. I didn’t have my handheld recorder with me but I managed a quick video on the smartphone which basically has no picture worth looking at but it recorded the song this bird was singing, along with a comment or two from a Canada Goose.

Fox Sparrow, singing

Fox Sparrow, singing

As it turns out the Fox Sparrow was the “rare” bird of the day. I wondered why ebird was asking me to verify the sighting and then checked the distribution on Sibley’s app, and the northernmost part of Fox Sparrows’ winter range in Illinois is somewhere around Springfield or the middle of the state. But with climate creep, I’m not all that surprised. Besides which we have so far had a pretty mild winter.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

The two birds I see regularly all year around at the Portage are Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Cardinals, and neither one of them wanted to cooperate for a photo today. But I did find this one male Northern Cardinal trying to keep warm in the top of a sunlit tree.

Northern Cardinal at Portage Woods

Northern Cardinal at Portage Woods

I’m actually looking forward to walking to the train tomorrow morning. I feel like my life has started over again. I still have a little pain and expect I will have more so I’m not going to overdo anything, but I am on the mend and that’s all I can ask for. Happy New Year!