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.

Canada Geese are moving around and I always love to see them in flight.

Not as many Great Blue Herons as Great Egrets but they are also taking advantage of the shallow river.

On occasion, a Double-Crested Cormorant. Since they are divers, I can’t imagine this bird was too happy with the shallow water situation.

European Starlings are not in huge flocks like they were several years ago. Here’s a few staked out on a dead tree.

I was delighted to see a Belted Kingfisher fly by noisily on my second visit, as I crossed the bridge.

A sneaky closer view of this Great Egret.

Below is a busy Blackpoll Warbler, blending in with the leaves.

Blackpoll Warbler
An American Robin – I liked its perch choice

I saw the Osprey on both visits. On my second visit, just as I discovered the access point to the trail closer to the river, I inadvertently disturbed the Osprey – it was perched in a large tree right past the trail head, until I approached – so I will be more careful to look for it before I venture forth next time. The bird flew across the river to perch on the tree below. It was quite something to have a bird with a 63″ wingspan take off right over my head.

I was happy to find a Canada Warbler and took advantage of its willingness to stick around for several shots, albeit at a distance. This looks like a first year bird, with a faint necklace.

Swainson’s Thrush

I was trying to capture the Gray-Cheeked Thrush below and was photo-bombed by a Magnolia Warbler.

I thought it would be easy to combine all these photos into one post but it seems I have overshot my limit again.

Many more photos to come – if I can keep up with it. I have to get used to my new routine, while it lasts anyway. I have a feeling I will be delving into the archives over the winter months playing catch-up. This morning started off cool and cloudy at Columbus Park where we had a scheduled walk. We didn’t see very many birds and those that we did were not easy to capture in low light. I feel like I’ve been given the rest of the morning off to finish this post.

Back to the Portage

But first, a Song Sparrow that somehow didn’t make it into the last post. I have heard Song Sparrows on occasion at the Portage but have not seen many this year.

This is my birthday weekend and if my memory serves me correctly, also the anniversary of this blog although I don’t remember how many years it has been and am too lazy to look it up. I did manage to visit the Portage on Saturday morning and will be back with that report later, but since I started this post two (?) weeks ago I feel obligated to finish it. I just checked. The photos below are from June 13. We were hot and dry. We have since had a lot of rain and flooding, but not quite enough to take us out of the “abnormally dry” category on the Illinois Drought Monitor.

Yellow Warblers nest here and were pretty elusive but I did finally manage to capture this one.

I am always intrigued by the sight of a Red-winged Blackbird chasing a Red-tailed Hawk…

Insects are sparse, which is not news, but makes the few individuals one sees that much more precious. I think I may have identified the two below. I haven’t had to resort to bug spray yet this year, although I do have a few bites I occasionally scratch to remind me it’s not over yet. The effect of insects being sparse, however, is bad news for the dragonflies and birds that eat them.

Hobomok Skipper
Likely a female Variable Dancer.

Cabbage White butterflies have been the most prevalent, and even they seem sparse. They are an introduced species.

For what it’s worth, the volunteers at the Portage have been busy reducing invasive plant species, and it is gratifying to see the natives return. Last time I saw them at work they were cutting away massive swaths of hemlock. Unfortunately it was in flower so it will likely return. But a lot of the burdock from years ago is gone. It’s a slow process.

Hemlock

More often heard than seen – a Blue Jay.

The male Brown-headed Cowbird below intrigued me by the light-colored throat feathers. It might just be a trick of the light.

Below is what I believe is a young Northern Flicker peering out of a nest hole.

The Indigo Buntings are still going strong with their songs and territories and it’s hard to resist them. I have to quit taking them for granted. They weren’t here in these numbers ten years ago.

The Baltimore Orioles have been harder to spot as they tend to their broods, but I got lucky and watched this one as he visited the nest.

Baltimore Oriole nest

So I hope to be back later today with a little yard report. If I could have one thing on my birthday (while it’s still quiet and getting too hot to be outside for very long), it would be to have time to write another blog post.

My best friend from junior high is in town from California for her mother’s 100th birthday and has chosen to stay with me and the birds. Luckily there is a relatively comfortable finished attic – I call it my people space. I bought a new room air conditioner which seems to be keeping it cool enough up there. So I am foregoing my traditional visit to Goose Lake Prairie this year. Maybe I can take off for that grassland later in the month. Today I will enjoy hanging out with my friend and trying to be lazy.

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.