In Spite of the Clouds

I haven’t been out for a walk the past two days, due to snow of one sort or another. I did manage a few visits last week in the gloom. These photos are all from Riverside, starting with January 18.

it was warmer last week and from time to time there were Canada Geese.

Any bird who sits still long enough to be photographed gets my attention.

There were geese on the lawn by the library.

And then I noticed a lot of American Tree Sparrows in the grass as well.

But then after I crossed the footbridge and started to walk the trail nearest the river in Riverside Lawn, I spotted a Winter Wren.

Seeing I was paying attention to the Winter Wren, a Carolina Wren came out to pose for me. This happened the last time I saw these two characters. I was also happy to hear a vocalization from the Carolina Wren that was new for me. I hope I remember it next time I hear it.

Fitting in with all the brown birds, a Mallard hen standing in a shallow spot.

And I saw 64H again. That may have been the last time I saw him.

My next visit on January 20 was much gloomier.

But there was a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the river that made up for the gloom.

I barely caught the Belted Kingfisher in flight and then managed to find it perched later with its back to me.

Backlit gloom did no favors for this White-breasted Nuthatch.

On January 23, there were at least 100 Canada Geese by the footbridge. I couldn’t stuff them all into one frame.

The light wasn’t good enough to capture a Downy Woodpecker in focus, but he brightened up the gloom anyway.

I saw the Belted Kingfisher again. He was quite far away.

A Northern Cardinal was my consolation prize.

It’s been quiet, getting colder, and we are about to dip into the deep freeze. The snow so far hasn’t been too much of a problem as the temperature has been just above freezing most of the time, but it looks like the next few days we will have more snow to deal with in addition to the cold. Such is winter.

Looking forward to singing Sunday morning. It will be just sopranos and altos. We’re singing a lovely little song in Italian and I am looking forward to rolling my r’s.

More winter birds on the way. Hard to believe we’re almost done with January.

Prelude to the Deep Freeze

It’s snowing this evening, as I write this. I stepped outside to bring in bird feeders from the backyard earlier, and the humidity made it feel pleasantly warm. But we are plunging into cold tomorrow (the high will be 30 degrees Fahrenheit) and will continue to plummet to single digits by next Friday if the forecast is credible.

I was working on a lovely, bright, colorful post of a lot of birds seen on September 1 that I never got around to sharing, but decided to postpone that just a little longer because this morning, after disappointing outings all week, I went to the Chicago Portage, expecting to see nothing but up for the walk before my scheduled grocery run, and I was pleasantly surprised by a few birds beyond any expectations.

The first surprise: I heard, and then saw, a male Belted Kingfisher over the water. I can’t remember the last time I saw this bird here. More usually I see Kingfishers over by the Des Plaines River.

Things were looking a lot like this, at best, when I finally found most of the passerine flock just beyond the hill and the opening in the fence. The birds were pretty far away and it was hard to find them, let alone focus, in such poor light.

American Goldfinch

But then another surprise was seeing this Ruby-crowned Kinglet foraging on the ground to the left of the trail. I apologize for the lack of clarity in some of the photos, but the best ones I got were when the bird had its back to me. Of course.

Dark-eyed Juncos outnumbered every other species, but were hard to capture. I might have gotten some more photos except for a man walking through with his dog. Predictably the flock scattered to some unknown location and I never saw it again.

Enjoying the open water after yesterday’s rain were several Mallards.

And there were Canada Geese as well. No surprise there.

I was heading back out of the inside trail in my usual fashion, not expecting to see anything, and paused to look over the water. That was when I saw a distant Great Blue Heron. Surprise number 3! It won’t take long for the water to freeze the next day or two, so I don’t expect to see another one of these birds for quite a while.

I won’t know until tomorrow morning whether I want to walk in Riverside before I go swimming. But I am getting mentally ready for a long, cold but convivial Christmas Bird Count on Saturday by the Fox River. Sunday will be even colder, but the sun will be shining. I will be indoors singing in the choir. There are more sunny days in the forecast – but even colder. Glad I still have some earlier, warmer-looking photos to revive.

Reconnected – Two Days Later

My two days without Internet service are over. With enough access on my phone, I confess I hardly missed it. But now that I am able to publish photos from the camera again, I want to get this post out of my system.

I was thrilled to find a Winter Wren in my backyard on Thursday afternoon. I had been to the Chicago Portage in the morning seeing very little. And after about a week of seeing or hearing Winter Wrens every day I was not encountering them anymore. Then this little delightful creature showed up in my yard. My messy, full of trees, leaves and spent tall native flowers and grasses yard – just the place for a fall migrant. I think the wren was actually attracted to the remaining mess by the back fence where the tree stumps had been removed. When I have encountered Winter Wrens they often seem to be messing around in dead wood.

Fallen leaves from my Hawthorn Tree

Here are a couple more fleeting photos of the Winter Wren.

I had first seen the wren when I went out to refill the birdbaths, so I went back in the house and grabbed the camera. It was a nice enough day to sit in the yard for half an hour or so and observe whatever activity was available. There was a predictable, endless stream of House Sparrows.

But then I saw something moving in the clump of spent flowers that had planted themselves just off the back porch stairs. It turned out to be a Nashville Warbler, which is late and therefore “rare” for this date. It wasn’t easy to see all that clearly but it is definitely a Nashville with that white eye-ring, gray cap and yellow body.

It occurred to me that, after all these years, this is exactly what I had in mind when I moved into my house and began by replacing the lawn with trees and native plants. I just wanted to attract birds. It seemed obvious to me at the time, but it was not initially very popular with City Hall or some of my neighbors. Perhaps awareness of the climate crisis and species extinction is tilting the scales more in my favor lately. I may even be participating in another garden walk next year. I hope so – it will motivate me to work in the yard more than I have been lately!

So was anything happening at the Chicago Portage on Thursday morning besides leaves?

There were a few – very few – birds. I am always excited to see an American Crow, of course.

And there were a few well-camouflaged American Goldfinches.

But in general, flora and colorful leaves provided the most interest. There was a small stand of some late-blooming Evening Primrose out in the middle of the marsh.

It would probably be enough to stop here, but I am going to move on to the next morning’s visit to Riverside, which produced more birds, and by the time I reached the health club to go swimming, a message on my phone saying my new router had arrived.

It is always good to see a familiar face in Riverside. This Great Blue Heron was present again just off the Hofmann dismantled-dam location.

Here’s a view of the Des Plaines River from the Joliet Avenue bridge, looking north.

As I stood on the bridge, I heard and then saw two Belted Kingfishers rise up and fly over. I was able to capture one of them.

The bird species of the morning, though, was definitely Golden-Crowned Kinglet – they were everywhere, in numbers.

By the time I reached the spot where I was about to cross the footbridge, just past the police and fire station, there were Golden-crowned Kinglets hugging the trees lining the path.

Walking along the river, it was hard to ignore Mallard males gleaming in the sunshine.

A couple more photos of the river and trees, which were hard to resist.

At Riverside Lawn, there weren’t a lot of birds, but enough to make a morning. I saw a distant but brightly-lit Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Dark-eyed Juncos were easier to see when they were preoccupied on the ground.

White-throated Sparrows were here and there.

And it’s always special to see a Fox Sparrow.

When I got back to where I park my car by the Hofmann Tower, I was happy to see a Great Egret in the river. As you can see, the water level is low.

Here are a couple more images from Friday morning.

It’s a season of change, from day to day. I will be back soon with more scenes from what has been an exceptionally beautiful autumn of birds and their surroundings.

Golden Crowns in Riverside

I’ve been trying to write this post since last Tuesday. Spring migration has begun, and at this rate I will not be able to get caught up until next spring. On my visit the morning of April 5 to Riverside, one species stood out, albeit the smallest: Golden-crowned Kinglet. I first encountered several by the paved path in Riverside, but on the Riverside Lawn side of the river, there could easily have been more than the 50 I reported. They were slightly outnumbered by Red-winged Blackbirds that I did not bother to photograph in cloudy light, but I did record them because some of their vocalizations reminded me a bit of other blackbirds I have heard and you can hear the beautiful cacophony in the second recording below. The first recording has the sound of the Kinglets – that little tiny tinker bell sound on top of the blackbird chorus.

Golden-crowned Kinglets
Red-winged Blackbirds

I took way too many pictures of the Kinglets because they were practically at eye level or on the ground…

Here’s how the Des Plaines River looks these days from the paved path in Riverside.

On the other side of the paved path, the flood plain was flooded a bit, providing enough water for a group of Blue-winged Teal along with Mallards and Canada Geese. As for the geese, I have been seeing 68B a lot lately.

In addition to all the Golden-crowned Kinglets I saw my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the season.

Here’s how the river looked that morning from the Lyons side by the Hofmann Tower.

When I came back to the bridge on Joliet Avenue I could just barely see a Belted Kingfisher perched far away in this tree. I had followed her in flight from another location. I have usually seen a male at this location so it was nice to see her with her rufous breast band.

There were still some Red-breasted Mergansers in the river, although they were pretty far away.

I always have room for a perching Northern Cardinal. Here are my two volunteers from that morning.

With the available light on and off, I thought these Mallards looked rather content in the fluddle.

The perched Song Sparrow sat and talked to me, he didn’t sing this time. The one on the ground looks to be a different individual.

Brown Creepers never really disappeared but they seem to be making a comeback for spring anyway.

I wasn’t able to capture a Great Blue Heron by the river that morning but I sort of managed to commemorate these two flying over.

Here are two more of my favorite Golden-crowned Kinglet photos.

I will try to get back sooner. I have been alternating visits to Riverside with the Chicago Portage and every day I have gone out, I have seen something new.

I also have been spending time visiting with my flute-playing friend Linda who very unfortunately broke her femur a week and a half ago. She is recuperating well from a successful surgery which put her back together, and she is now in rehab. I will miss playing with her in this year’s Spring Music Festival but pray for her complete recovery and making music together again.

Two Visits to an Old New Place

Thanks to a dog walker I met twice last week… I visited a new-for-me place which has been in my backyard, so to speak, all along. I had been meaning to check out the Riverwalk on the Lyons side of the Des Plaines but never realized the other side had a park along the river called Indian Gardens. Many thanks to Ken the architect from Riverside who told me about it. It’s actually closer to home than the Portage, even, by about a couple minutes.

These pictures are from two days’ visits. I parked on the Lyons side and then walked across the bridge and through the Indian Gardens park. I didn’t venture past the tennis courts the first day, but on the second day I walked through them and found where there is an “unmanaged” trail along the river where I will be going more often.

The Lyons side has a fantastic Hoffman Tower which provides a place to hang out for a sizable number of feral pigeons. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a flock of pigeons in flight for quite some time.

Walking through Indian Gardens

Blue Jays seem to be everywhere lately. They’re carrying on noisily and are even sometimes visible.

Time to get your fill of Magnolia Warbler photographs because I just barely saw one the last couple days – I think they have moved on, after dominating the warbler migration scene for two weeks. You can click on any of these pictures to get a better view.

Monarch Butterflies are still migrating here and there.

There are a lot of Northern Cardinals at this location, but they are more often heard than seen. I did manage to capture a few females, though. I’ve never seen one capture an insect – it looks like a grasshopper. And then the one perched in a tree with its leaves already turning – she nearly blends in.

It’s absolutely wonderful to see the Great Egrets – even if it’s mainly due to the fact that we haven’t had any substantive rain for at least a couple weeks and it’s been hot, so the middle of the Des Plaines River is very low – perfect for waders.

There were 4 Great Egrets on my last visit – only 3 visible in this photograph

Gray Catbirds have evaded my lens nearly all summer and now they are getting bolder as they prepare to fly south. The young bird amongst all the dead leaves was right at my feet on the Lyons side.