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.

Catching Up

Here it is the end of September and I am just getting around to photos from the 10th taken at – where else? – the Chicago Portage. The activity seemed to die down a bit that day so there aren’t quite so many to sift through. Magnolia Warbler above and directly below.

I’m not 100% sure but I think the bird directly below is a Pine Warbler. One of those confusing fall warblers…

This was the first time I had seen a Northern Parula in a while. A not-so-common warbler around here.

A few other birds seen that weren’t warblers…

Red-eyed Vireo
For the record, a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird…
Swainson’s Thrush

Blackpoll Warblers have been everywhere, or so it seems. Below is another.

Never confusing, a Black-and-White Warbler below. I suppose if you couldn’t see them well you might mistake one for a nuthatch as they behave the same way.

This Nashville Warbler could have been in better light…

The other ubiquitous warbler that is easy to confuse with the Blackpoll is the Bay-breasted Warbler, below.

Chipmunks are everywhere too – it seems like a bumper crop this year.

One more of the Northern Parula.

I’m afraid I will be back shortly with another surfeit of something. This birding every morning to make up for not being able to do it while I was working is…almost like going to work. But I am enjoying myself and it seems imperative to pay attention and keep track of the birds while I still can. Learning how to navigate retirement with…a sense of purpose.

Bemis Woods Twice

I decided to visit Bemis Woods a couple times two weeks ago as it is on the way to the grocery store where buy my organic veggies and then I wouldn’t be wasting a trip running all the way over to the store just for a couple items the first time, and my weekly groceries the next. I have now changed my shopping day to Friday instead of Saturday, so… visiting Bemis could become a weekly event.

I wasn’t sure if I would ever visit Bemis after the installation of a “Go Ape” Zipline feature a couple years ago. It’s right off the parking lot. but I thought I would see how it was to walk the trails, figuring the pandemic had probably put a damper on Go Ape for a while. While it doesn’t take up the whole preserve, that much human activity, in addition to plenty of bike riders, walkers and runners…well, you get the picture for a slow-moving quiet person like me. Bemis is also huge and there are trails sprawled out leading to oblivion, or so it seems, but luckily the GPS on my phone confirms I am going back in the right direction.

Black-throated Green Warblers have been everywhere this season. Period.

I was delighted to find the female Black-throated Blue Warbler below in my photos.

I could not resist documenting this Blackpoll Warbler’s struggle with its prey.

Not to be outdone by the warblers chasing bugs, this Black-capped Chickadee showed me there are other interesting things to eat.

I have no idea what the plant below is but I liked the way it has gone to seed.

Another view of part of Bemis that is not woods.

Bemis is otherwise thick with tall trees like the view below, which makes seeing anything a challenge.

The Salt Creek runs through the preserve and there were Mallards at least one morning. It was nice to see some water still deep enough to afford waterfowl.

The asters below caught my eye. There are so many different types of asters, the more I learn the more confused I become. I’m glad the bee in the right-hand photo has figured it out.

Two more views of the Northern Flicker at the top of the post.

Below is a confusing fall warbler that has to be a Bay-Breasted but looks almost nothing like the ones below it in different light.

I have not seen many Chestnut-Sided Warblers this fall but am always glad when I do see one.

Below, some type of phlox and then golf-ball-sized galls that are found on Staghorn Sumac trees.

There’s always room for a Downy Woodpecker in my estimation.

This is still just the tip of the iceberg. However I have to use up more photographs soon or I won’t have room on my hard drive for the ones I have yet to take. Or something like that. I did get a bit of a reprieve last week when we had a string of rainy, cloudy mornings – which I devoted to projects I’m starting in my yard. We had cool weather and then we went back to hot and dry – and now we seem to be somewhere in between, but I am really hoping for some more rain, again.

Two Days of Retirement

To celebrate August 31st being my last official day of work, I went to the Portage two mornings in a row, to look for the first signs of fall migration. I didn’t see an awful lot of species on either visit, but there were some nice looks. Best of all was feeling really free to take my time and not worry about checking my work email. I still have to get used to waking up in the dark, though, because I have walks to lead every Saturday in September and October.

Of course the obvious draw this time of year is the fall warblers passing through on their way south from their breeding grounds in the north. I didn’t see a lot of species and missed a couple, but so far I have seen a few warblers each day. They behave differently on their way back to their wintering grounds. They are not foraging in flocks and they are in less of a hurry. So while they may be harder to spot at times, it’s easier to concentrate on one bird at a time. Below are a couple American Redstarts.

I felt lucky to find this Bay Breasted Warbler in my photographs.

Magnolia Warbler, also at the head of this post

One of my favorites, a Chestnut-Sided Warbler, was being rather coy.

Not a warbler, but a nice to see Red-Eyed Vireo both days. The bottom photograph was taken the second day when the Vireo was eating poke berries with the Cedar Waxwings.

Thursday morning I managed to capture enough photographs of the Orange-Crowned Warbler below to justify my claim that I had seen one, since it’s very early for this species.

I just barely captured this Nashville Warbler.

Wednesday was cloudy.

Large flocks of Cedar Waxwings were present on both days.

Some closer views of the Waxwings Thursday, when they were busy eating poke berries.

Below is a beautiful wasp’s nest. I have a slightly smaller one in my crabapple tree this year as well…

Something else that I had a lot of in my yard before I removed nearly all of it, below, is Common Beggar Ticks which is native, and an annual – but doesn’t bloom until now.

On the first day I did manage to capture the Swainson’s Thrush below. I also saw a Wood Thrush but that photograph isn’t presentable.

Robins are looking scruffy this time of year. Most of them are juveniles.

When I first walked in on Thursday, there was a deer at the end of the paved path, and then a Cooper’s Hawk with prey landed in a tree above me, but I didn’t see what it had captured.

Unfortunately this Ruby-Throated Hummingbird was completely backlit in bright sunshine but it was still nice to see it perch right in front of me.

There were still a couple Indigo Buntings around.

Female Indigo Bunting

For once, there were more than one or two Monarch Butterflies. I realize this is probably the last I will see of them but it was nice while it lasted.

Below is a Chipmunk foraging in a tree.

A few scenes of the Portage and one quick look at the Des Plaines River where not much is happening at the moment.

Black-capped Chickadees are around all year but I don’t always see them. Sometimes I don’t even hear them. This one didn’t mind being seen or heard.

I am trying to navigate this new feeling of almost endlessness. Well, it doesn’t last for long. There is much to do, but less of a feeling of urgency or hopelessness as my work duties have all but vanished. I have agreed to remain with the firm as an independent contractor to help out with various projects while they still try to find and train my replacement. My stipulation was to assume any given morning with nice weather would be off limits for my attention as I will likely be out looking for birds somewhere.