Back to Mid-April

In my typical fashion, I have been trying to write this post for the last week and a half. So while we are all wondering how to get through the holidays this year-like-no-other, I feel a sense of loss too, even though I likely would not have had any plans to go anywhere myself. But there’s also a sense of opportunity in any day I really don’t have to think about work.

Even though it was a cool, late spring and in the middle of the pandemic, there’s something oddly comforting these days about looking back.The Portage looks about like this now – no leaves on the trees, everything muted in browns and grays – but the birds are different in appearance, and most of these species have left for the winter. I took way too many photographs on this day, which might explain why it’s taken me seven months to process them. I won’t be doing a lot of explanation…that might take me another seven months. just hope you enjoy the images.

It will be a while before male American Goldfinches look like the one below.

Out over the Des Plaines River that day, there were three Belted Kingfishers flying around. I didn’t do a very good job of capturing them, they were quite far away. But at least one flew close enough to be recognizable.

A returning Song Sparrow
A Blue Jay, blending in with the sky and the barren tree
Waiting to come back to life.

I keep trying to get a decent photograph of the golden shafts on a Flicker and usually fail, but this time I got close.

There were a couple Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with the Mallards.

One Ring-Billed Gull flew over low enough to be identifiable.

Robins started coming back to their territories. The one in the second photograph is barely discernible from the tree it’s in.

Of course nothing says spring like the return of Red-Winged Blackbirds.

It was early enough in the morning to encounter a couple deer.

Please forgive me, I took way too many pictures of Golden-Crowned Kinglets. They are all gone now, but it was a joy to see them return in April.

Downy Woodpecker – the Portage’s most numerous resident woodpecker

Here’s a thrush I don’t see often – a Veery.

I took a few too many pictures of this Ruby-crowned Kinglet too, but at least I did get somewhat of a shot at the ruby crown.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker…

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

I am always happy to see a White-Breasted Nuthatch, even though they are with us all year long. I never tire of them.

The light was nice on this Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Brown-headed Cowbirds are…what they are.

The pair of Eastern Bluebirds this year were such a welcome sight. Although I saw them for several weeks, I don’t think they wound up staying to breed. I can only hope they give the Portage a second chance next year.

The first warbler to show up in the spring, and the last to leave in the fall… the trusty Myrtle, or as long as it’s still lumped with Audubon’s (last time I checked), it’s a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

I will be back with more from last spring (!) and some more current observations. I hope you are safe and well, wherever you are. And I hope you continue to find moments of peace and solace. There is still a lot to be thankful for.

Finally, Pine Siskins

After reading about the irruption of Pine Siskins for weeks, I kept wondering how I could have possibly missed seeing them. The species showed up in my yard for the first time in January of this year and I fondly remembered their cheery presence. I thought I might have seen one or two last week but I couldn’t be sure, and had to discount it as wishful thinking. Then last Sunday morning as I stood on the back porch, there they were. Only two of them, but they were all I needed to restore my faith in something. They didn’t stay long. Maybe they were playing hooky from some large flock somewhere.

The House Sparrows outnumber everybody else, of course.

Last Saturday was the first time I dared go out with my usual camera setup. The camera weighs two pounds and the lens is another three and a half. It doesn’t sound like a lot of weight but it’s dense and massive. Then there’s the issue of adjusting the focus with my left hand. My fingers are still slightly swollen and stiff, and I can’t maneuver entirely without pain. But I am in the painful stage of physical therapy now so I may as well enjoy my suffering and take pictures.

I had come to see if there were Sandhill Cranes – and there were, a few – but the skies were dominated by Canada Geese. Unfortunately the owners of the surrounding farms were hunting them. I didn’t see any fall from the sky but I wasn’t looking either, it was bad enough to hear the gunshots. Something else to think about when I visit this place in the fall.

Canada Geese

Some flora caught my eye.

The first two birds I saw on the trail going in were Cedar Waxwings.

A burning bush?

It was nice to see this young White-crowned Sparrow.

So there were some Sandhills. I won’t be able to get back up there this year to see hundreds or thousands that sometimes come through, but I did have a good time talking with a crane enthusiast who visits there a lot and knows their habits. He said he was waiting for a big push of cold weather from Wisconsin and that would bring down a lot of cranes. He is hoping to see a Whooping Crane this year.

Not a lot of land birds but it was a beautiful morning. I was surprised to see the Blue Jay arrive and announce himself, and pose for a couple pictures.

I always see Crows here and that makes me happy.

Below are the last pictures I took the previous Saturday morning at the Portage, with the mirrorless camera. It takes nice photographs, but I haven’t figured out how to get it to focus all the time.

So I was frustrated when I saw the Blue-headed Vireo below so well, but I couldn’t get the camera to see it as clearly as I did.

My closest shot of one of the Sandhills from Goose Lake Natural Area…

Between work, physical therapy, waking up to this, that, or the other pain, trying not to let the news cycle interrupt a deeper thought process, there have been moments of peace and flashes of contentment, even a little creativity. I have missed seeing more birds and autumn color. This is usually my favorite time of year. I am looking forward to setting the clocks back so there will be more light in the morning. My indoor birds are good sports. They are helping me write a song about looking for an answer to a question I haven’t figured out yet.

Three Days at the Portage – Day 2

There were still some warblers on May 24, but the Bird of the Day for me was Red-Eyed Vireo. I had been wondering where these birds were, and then they all seemed to show up at once. Usually you hear them singing and don’t see them very well as they move through the trees chasing insects. But this time they were more often seen than heard. In some of these photographs you might actually be able to see the red eye for which they are named.

Red-eyed Vireo

Many of the warblers I saw that day were females. The females tend to migrate later than the males who are in a hurry to set up their territories. Spring migration this year seemed strange for many reasons – the pandemic affecting where you could go to find birds, the weather which is always a factor, and I guess the knowledge in the back of your mind that birds are in decline and you wonder just how many you’re going to see anyway.

Below is a Yellow Warbler who likely is on territory for the summer. I recorded him singing, and you can hear him three times in the little clip below his picture. Some people find the mnemonic “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet” helpful in distinguishing this song from others they might be hearing.

Yellow Warbler

I feel fortunate to have seen a Canada Warbler more than once this spring. Unfortunately they prefer somewhat shady spots which I guess they blend into better than bright sunlight. I love the steel-gray blue color of their backs. I would support a Pantone color called Canada Warbler Blue.

Northern Cardinals are all around but not seen too often. This one was far away but distinct.

A Blue Jay on the fly.

Baltimore Orioles are getting harder to see now that they are busy rearing families.

Indigo Buntings are busy too but there are so many of them, they are easier to see.

Indigo Bunting (female)

This might have been the last time I saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Actually I’m surprised I got to see more than its tail. I still hear them, but only on occasion, certainly not constantly like a few weeks ago when they first arrived.

Even Red-Winged Blackbirds are assuming a lower profile.
Two Mallards navigating the flood waters adjacent to the Des Plaines River which were still quite high that day.
Double-Crested Cormorant – an occasional flyover
The back of a Chipmunk

A couple more warblers – there seemed to be fewer American Redstarts this year, at least where I was. And I just learned something I never bothered to look up before about distinguishing the female Chestnut-sided Warbler from the male – the bright chestnut sides don’t extend as far down the side on the female. So the pictures below are of a female. And since I continue to hear a male singing at the Portage I can only wonder if there might be an actual breeding pair.

I still hear the Eastern Wood-Pewee but this might have been the last time I got photo ops.