Two Visits to Riverside

My mother always used to call March the Adolescent Month. She must have been referring to the weather. It’s as if it is on the cusp of indecision – stay in winter or grow up into spring.

I went to Riverside on March 2 which was on the beginning of a brief warm front, and then back again on March 9. On the first visit it wasn’t particularly warm in the morning, but the winds were blowing from the south. I saw the Eastern Bluebird briefly.

There’s nearly always a Black-capped Chickadee somewhere. This one was close enough to photograph.

The sky wasn’t too encouraging.

This Blue Jay tolerated me long enough to focus on those few parts of him that weren’t obscured.

The Des Plaines River is flowing again.

Waterfowl are here and there now, the large groups of Canada Geese and Mallards have dispersed. Below is a female Common Merganser.

With the strong shift in winds from the south, Sandhill Cranes were taking advantage of a free ride. I saw the larger flock when I came back to my car in the health club parking lot after swimming the same day.

When I went back on March 9, the skies were clearer but the temperature was colder.

This Red-bellied Woodpecker was showing off against the blue sky background.

I took note of a River Birch tree. There are several on the Riverside side by the paved trail. The bark fascinates me. They are logical trees for a flood plain.

The foot bridge was clear and clean-looking that day.

Here’s another Red-bellied Woodpecker on the Riverside Lawn side of the river.

My biggest treat this past Wednesday was the Song Sparrow singing, below. It took me a little while to locate him but he was facing me, singing away, when I did. After taking his picture and recording his song, he starting singing a different song, which I also recorded. You can hear both songs below the photographs. I have never witnessed this before. I know Song Sparrows have a reputation for singing a lot of songs but I don’t believe I have never heard the same bird sing two distinct songs. It’s as if he knew he had a good audience. It also reminds me of the Shanahan New Yorker cartoon below, which is my favorite cartoon as it seems to sum up my life.

Song Sparrow – First Song
Song Sparrow – Second Song

Mr. and Ms. Mallard were elegant on the water.

The clear blue sky provided a perfect backdrop for an adult Bald Eagle as well.

When I got back to my parking spot I was greeted by a Canada Goose standing on one foot.

But before I could get into my car, two Red-tailed Hawks started flying over, showing off. I didn’t manage to get them both in the same frame but a small sampling of the many photographs I took is below.

The last and most distant capture was of this hawk’s back against the sun.

Spring continues to push forward. We had some snow last night but it was a minimal accumulation. Even though it’s quite cold, the sun has by now removed all the snow from the sidewalks. As much as I am tempted to wonder what is the meaning of life these days, it seems to make as much sense, if not more, to just take note of as much of it as I can.

Riverside Winter Comparison

Here’s a set of photographs I have been meaning to share since they were taken way back when, December 22, 2021, to be exact, in Riverside. I figured I could contrast what this part of the world looked like before the snow and icy cold overtook everything.

The Brown Creeper at the top of the post was on a Hackberry tree right by the Riverside entrance to the foot bridge. It was foraging about waist-level.

December 22, 2021
February 1, 2022
The Water Tower
Foot bridge

There were a lot of Canada Geese that day, including the one above with its neck tag. When I was last there, only a few Canada Geese were down on the ice.

I never turn down a chance to photograph a Downy Woodpecker, although it was a lot easier back in December.

The Dark-eyed Junco below was over by the Riverside side of the Joliet Avenue bridge.

It’s been really hard to capture Black-capped Chickadees lately, so I’m glad I managed on December 22nd to photograph this one.

Mallards below are from February 1. The sole female Common Goldeneye was still with some of them.

The unidentified fungus below was from the December outing.

Also in December, across the river, I managed to pick out this Blue Jay having a drink of water solely by his blue color.

Here’s how the sky looked on February 1.

Another before and after comparison of the river.

I took notice of the hole in this stump on February 1, sheerly for its size and somewhat square shape, which made me wonder if I will ever see a Pileated Woodpecker at this location. I thought I heard one that day.

I keep thinking this downed tree by the trail looks like a hedge.

So, a last look at the snow and ice for now. It is not going anywhere for awhile. There likely will always be some Mallards and a few Canada Geese in the open water. I have yet to see a Bald Eagle here or at the Portage.

This morning I found myself going through some photographs from the end of September in Riverside, taken around the Indian Gardens location before I had discovered this location I have been to all winter. I am sure I will be birding both areas in the spring. In the meantime, I will be back with those photos from September 29, 2021, to brighten things up a bit and as something to look forward to.

Deep Freeze

I wasn’t going out today. At least not for a walk. I got out of bed later than usual. The birds were waiting to be fed as the bright sunshine poured through the east windows. By the time I got done feeding everyone I had convinced myself the sun was shining and there was no reason not to go for a walk, so I put on extra layers and drove over to the Portage where I was the only car in the lot.

Plenty of people had been there yesterday after the snow. Yesterday wasn’t such a bad day by comparison but I was preoccupied with the snow and stayed home. This morning we were in the single digits. But the sun was shining and there was no wind to speak of. So I walked – and I’m glad I did. My mind and body seem to need this.

Below, footprints in the snow that preceded my visit. But still better than the ice from my last visit four days earlier.

There were not a lot of birds on either day, but I was delighted to see an albeit rather distant American Kestrel land on top of a tree this morning just as I approached the first bridge. I took several photographs like the one below and then managed to capture its departure.

The first bridge

I always take photos of the landscape just to see how it changes with the seasons… There seemed to be a lot of deer tracks across the frozen stream. And then there was a family of deer.

I was fortunate enough to visit with a greeter Black-capped Chickadee for a moment.

On the earlier visit with the little camera I managed to get the images below of Northern Cardinals and an American Tree Sparrow. I saw none of these species today.

Front and back of the statue – today with snow, on the 21st without.

American Robins from my first visit and today. You can see how much colder it was today by how fluffed up the Robin below is.

I also managed to get a few photos of White-throated Sparrows both visits. The closest ones were with the little camera – better weather and a less-intimidating lens, perhaps.

I noticed the wasp nest had a nice snow cap.

There was a Red-tailed Hawk on my way out, but it refused to stay put in its perch locations long enough to photograph and I didn’t capture it well enough in flight to reproduce here.

When I got home, I decided to walk around the back with the camera to see if I could sneak a few shots of my yard birds. They know me best for when they can expect me to fill the feeders. The rest of the time they tend not to tolerate my presence outside much. They are so exposed right now. It will be easier to hang with them when the trees start filling out with leaves.

The American Goldfinches are my steadiest customers up until about 3;00 in the afternoon. I fill up the new thistle feeders every day so more of them can feed at the same time. Every morning there are at least 30 to 40 of them. This is the first winter in a couple years that I haven’t had Pine Siskins visiting the thistle feeders as well.

American Goldfinch

House Sparrows…an exiting House Finch and American Goldfinch…and some Goldfinches on the thistle feeders. Those feeders were full this morning before I left.

I won’t know if I’m going for a walk tomorrow until I venture out into the yard. Dangerous wind chills are in the forecast. But if the sun is shining as brightly as it did today, it may still seem tolerable. I like to walk at Riverside which is a shorter trek lately anyway, and it’s on my way to the pool. Either way, I likely won’t be going out until something like 9:30. Swimming will be cold enough. I noticed Monday night that the pool has more pockets of colder than warmer water. Keeps me moving!

Footprints in the Snow

It’s simply too cold to venture outside for a walk today. I had hoped I would be up for a walk anyway – the sun is shining brightly – but with a wind chill of 14 below and a predicted high of no more than 14 above, I think I will simply wait for it to get warmer over the weekend.

I was last at the Chicago Portage on January 4. Even though I was the only human there, it immediately became obvious that several others had preceded me the days before.

I always take a photograph of the statue first just to commemorate the light. And in this case, a little snow on it.

It was a fairly sunny day and not windy, so I could stand and wait for birds to pop up. But there really weren’t many. I struggled to get a halfway clear picture of one very cold-looking White-throated Sparrow.

When I did finally see some Northern Cardinals, they were too far away.

Here are a few snowy scenes. Just enough for a contrast to the shades of brown.

The sky was often undecided about sunshine or clouds.

A view of the Des Plaines River

But there were deer. Several of them.

And more footprints caught my attention.

I barely heard the woodpeckers and did not see them at all. My greeter Black-capped Chickadee was excited to see me but he wouldn’t stay still very long.

I barely captured a Dark-eyed Junco.

Before the snow and cold, Canada Geese were everywhere. On this day, I noted only four flying over.

On the way out, I heard a White-breasted Nuthatch but when I tried to find it, instead I saw a Brown Creeper. Since they don’t sound anything alike, there’s no way I could have mistaken the elusive nuthatch for a creeper or vice versa. But this is a phenomenon I have noticed on several occasions this winter, so they must be foraging in the same trees. Anyway, below are some photos of the creeper.

I have a treasure trove of some slightly older and significantly older photographs to go through and they will come in handy during this cold spell when I just can’t find the courage to brave the elements. The weather hasn’t stopped me from going out at night to swim, it has only made the outing that more surreal. But I am grateful for the opportunity to get some exercise.

The Morning After

After living in the company of the glorious music we performed in the Return of the Unity Temple Choir Concerts on December 18 and 19, surviving my participation in the concerts and revisiting particularly resonant passages in my head – I went out to the Portage this beautiful sunshiny morning to reclaim my walk routine. At least that was what first struck me as I started up the trail: the past two weeks it seems between spates of inclement weather and the need to practice my choral parts, my sense of routine was minimal at best. Beyond feeding the birds, playing a little piano and swimming, there was only room for choir.

But now we have a couple weeks off before we resume rehearsals. It has been such a profound transition from rehearsing remotely to video performances to learning all the music and singing together, vaccinated and masked, as a choir in live performance again, I found myself exhausted after the first performance and feeling let down a bit after the second, as if I never wanted it to end.

I suppose if I were still working and had less time to preoccupy myself with the clinical details of my moods, this would all be chalked up to just part of the end-of-year-holiday madness, but whatever it is, experiences seem more vivid and significant as I search for meaning in the morass.

But enough of that heavy stuff! It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp morning at the Portage. And I barely saw any birds. A footnote to that – I could not participate in the Christmas Bird Count this year because of the choir concert which fell on the same day, December 18. But the few birds I did see this morning were delightful in their own way, and here they are.

Early on, I heard what I thought was an American Tree Sparrow where I have in the past run into flocks of foraging birds, but did not see it. I proceeded up the path, pausing now and then to listen to a distant call or silence, the wind making me glad I had on my long underwear. Then I heard a Black-capped Chickadee call to me, before it appeared. I have come to consider the Chickadees my Greeter Birds at the Portage. Invariably they have always solicited my attention.

That was just before the opening in the fence. I didn’t feel like walking back along the river toward the railroad tracks or going in the other direction toward the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) but I stood for a moment after going through the break in the fence and managed to capture a couple distant shots of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I briefly saw a male Northern Cardinal but did not photograph it. When I got to the second bridge I could see some Mallards in the water that was shallow enough to melt. I started walking the trail on the opposite side of the water.

Here’s what the Portage looked like this morning. It was nice to see a bit more water, albeit mostly frozen at first.

I got caught up to the Mallards which turned out to be two very cold looking birds.

I started walking back on the trail in my normal fashion and then was stopped by a Downy Woodpecker who began foraging with intensity up the trunk of a very small tree. I stood and watched him for quite a while. Forgive me if I took too many pictures.