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.
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.
From no light to almost too much, this past Saturday! It was clear and cold. The sunshine helped my mood a lot, especially because it wasn’t particularly windy.
It’s always good to see a Red-tailed Hawk, even if you can’t see the red tail – at least I could make out the belly band in the pictures.
Just when you think you know a place by heart, somebody does something to totally disrupt your perception of it. The first thing I noticed were tire tracks leading from the parking lot to a spot where there used to be some nice flat rocks I often sat on to take a break and look over the water. They were accompanied by a large pointy boulder. The rocks and boulder have been removed and this fence put around the area. I can’t imagine what is going in their place. Unfortunately I don’t believe I ever took any pictures of the rocks themselves. The goal was always to sit on them.
My stump was looking well-defined that morning.
A couple White-Throated Sparrows made themselves available on the way out after I answered their calls.
This Black-Capped Chickadee was fascinated by something in the wasp nest.
And a Red-Belled Woodpecker was busy digging around for bugs in tree bark.
Canada Geese were mainly congregating in the Des Plaines. It was impossible for me to get a long shot of them all because there was a freight train parked on the tracks and I didn’t want to get too close to it in case it decided to start moving, so I settled for a few shots through the trees. And two passing over instead of an entire gaggle.
Not much chance for Downy Woodpecker pictures, but I did manage to sort of capture this female.
The sparrows are there, just hard to see. I barely managed to pick out this American Tree Sparrow.
The star of the morning was a Carolina Wren who kept singing and singing… and I did finally manage a couple distant photographs.
The landscape becomes the central feature when all else fails.
Since these were taken we have received a somewhat significant amount of snow. Suffice it to say it required shoveling. I suspect it will be around for a while because we are also quite cold. Maybe with a little sunshine tomorrow I can hang out with the birds in the yard in between work assignments.
I have been to the Portage three times this month. These pictures are from the 9th, and there aren’t many of them, but I will do the visits in separate installments as an ode to Winter is Upon Us. Snow seemed a long time coming this year but we are likely going to get hit with a lot of it this week.
This very short post features more pictures of a slippery path than birds. I don’t know what i was thinking but I only had on my regular hiking boots that day, so I was hugging the periphery and moving very slowly to avoid sliding into oblivion.
The statue in very little light. Someone also managed a distressed looking snowman just off the parking lot. I guess this was our first recognizable accumulation of the winter.
More than anything else, flocks of Canada Geese continued to fly over, looking for open water, I suspect. There was very little open water left at the Portage and it was taken up by the two Mallards, one a Manky, at the top of the post.
One Song Sparrow managed to find my lens.
Parting shots of the water and the two ducks. And a little more open water…
I am glad I took this picture of a Fox Squirrel in my yard before I set out – he was the most colorful thing I saw all morning.
I plan to be back with posts from last weekend and yesterday… Soon!
In the meantime, after weeks of abandoning my Grim Reaper duties at home, which meant removing eggs from the Zebra Finches’ nests to avoid overpopulation, I am finally hearing some begging noises coming from the dining room. I was almost afraid I had conditioned the ZFs to give up sex – why bother? During all the trauma of the past month I felt like it might be fun to let them have a last fling and see some baby birds grow up for a while. Maybe it’s a vicarious wish to hone in on the birds’ perception of immortality.
I had hoped to manage this post a couple weeks ago but I have been too busy at work. Saying I can only spend so many hours on my laptop no longer seems a valid excuse since we don’t seem to be able to do anything offline these days. So to make it before December is no more, here are photos from my last visit to the Portage on December 5th.
The day started off cloudy and quiet but when the sun came out so did the birds. Some Northern Cardinals hiding out in the open.
Can’t ignore a few Canada Geese flying over.
American Goldfinches will devour everything before they resort to my feeders.
More cardinal photos. Often these guys are skulky but they didn’t seem to mind me that day.
There were a lot of Black-Capped Chickadees that day, and they were not shy.
Sunlit American Tree Sparrow below.
A few shots of how the Portage looks these days.
I would not have paid much attention to the Mallards below, except that after being advised by my two Portage photographer buddies Steve and Mike that the hybrid was a “Manky Duck”, I looked it up, and apparently there are several varieties. This one appears to be an Abacot Ranger Manky Duck. Who knew?
A White-Throated Sparrow and two views of a Song Sparrow…
In the darker moments, all I could get of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.
A female Downy in the cloud cover.
The bark on this tree caught my eye – and it was distinctive enough to identify as a Hackberry. I wanted a Hackberry in front of my house but my request was declined, I suspect due to too many underground facilities. But now I can admire this one. Time to start learning trees.
Last weekend I participated in the Christmas Bird Count. The weather was cloudy, but it wasn’t brutally cold and it didn’t rain. I may have a few photos to share.
We are beyond The Longest Night – which always reminds me of Peter Mayer’s beautiful song so entitled. I tried included a link to the song but I don’t think it’s allowed. If you are so inclined, do give it a listen on YouTube. There’s a lovely video with lyrics.
Wishing you and yours warm, peaceful holidays. May we look forward to 2021 with better outcomes for all.
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.
Some flora caught my eye.
The first two birds I saw on the trail going in were Cedar Waxwings.
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.
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.
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to participate in the Spring Bird Count in DuPage County. I have done this count for a number of years, but this time, with social distancing, it was different. We split up so we each covered one area. I was assigned the Silver Lake part of Blackwell Forest Preserve, a location I was not familiar with, but was easy to navigate with the map Jody gave me, and I can get lost anywhere. Since I could only do the morning and there was no time limit, I had a wonderful experience listening for and spotting all the birds I could identify at a leisurely pace.
I felt especially privileged because under the current New Normal, I would not have been allowed to visit DuPage County preserves because I am not a resident. The county decided last month to limit parking to its residents. We speculated there was an overflow of people from Cook County, where I live, due to the closing of the lakefront. So I don’t know when I’ll be able to revisit this lovely place, but now that I am more familiar with it, I plan to do so when restrictions end.
I was beginning to feel like I am the only person on earth who hadn’t seen a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak yet so I was happy to find one singing high up in a tall tree.
Love was definitely in the air, albeit chilly after freezing temperatures overnight, for local breeders. I usually can’t get a glimpse of a Blue Jay long enough to photograph, but this pair united for some courtship behavior, exchanging some tiny seeds you might be able to see if you click on the images below.
And when it was all over I somehow managed to catch this Blue Jay in flight.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers are usually quite common, however brief the period of spring migration, so it’s easy to overlook how truly beautiful they are. This one was happy to display all his yellow parts except for his namesake.
I have no idea what was going on with this European Starling but I could swear he was dancing and singing.
This Tree Swallow was saving his energy for later when the sun would start warming up the ground and the air and there would be bugs to catch.
At some point Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are going to become impossible to find, let alone photograph, but that hasn’t quite happened yet.
Here’s two more of the goldfinch pair featured at the top of this post.
This distant Northern Flicker would have been impossible to capture were it not for the bright, clear sunshine.
I kept hearing this Common Yellowthroat and he was confusing me by not singing his “witchety-wichety” song, only a slow trill, if you will. So finally he came and sat right in front of me and continued singing. I have never had a Common Yellowthroat volunteer to be photographed. He must be a novice. Anyway, you can see in the third photo how windy it was.
Another warbler, only this one was harder to capture. Black-throated Green Warbler.
Robins are predictably everywhere but they get short shrift. I try not to take them all for granted and capture at least one.
A less-frequently-seen bird, also in the thrush family – a handsome Veery.
Song Sparrow taking a break.
This Canada Goose flew right in front of me so I couldn’t resist.
I heard the Orchard Oriole before I saw him. What a lovely tune.
Palm Warblers become commonplace too, but they are still pretty birds.
I miss seeing spectacles like 150 White-Crowned Sparrows or more on the lakefront, but am glad I was able to report the only White-Crowned Sparrow seen in our area on Saturday.
There were at least four Baltimore Oriole males. These two got into a little bit of a stand-off.
Downy Woodpeckers are busy this time of year and not quite so visible.
Here’s another one of the Bluebird.
So this morning I wasn’t planning on going out at all because of the forecast for all-day rain, but the rain stopped, so I went to the Portage to see if I could find anything. The cloudy sky was a more dramatic backdrop than usual.
Just my luck – the male Bluebird who has been at the Portage now for weeks happened to be hanging out. The exciting news which I meant to report a couple weeks ago is that we have a breeding pair. I saw his mate with nesting material a couple weeks ago. As long as I have been going to the Portage, Bluebirds have never nested there. Apparently they found a log or a tree stump with a suitable cavity for a nest. So I will be watching for their offspring in the coming weeks.
It started to rain, and I had to decide what to do – go back to the car, or keep walking? I put my camera in my backpack, kept walking, and then ran into a flock of warblers high up in the trees. Oh great – no light, it’s raining, and the tiny warblers are nearly impossible to see. These few images are what I could capture.
Tuesday morning I am going to try to go to the Portage early in the morning – when there is sunshine and warmer temperatures – and come home to work in the afternoon. I hope I get permission to do this because the forecast from Wednesday through the weekend is for rain and thunderstorms. My hope is to see more warblers. You’ll hear about it if I do!
Tuesday morning I headed out for the doctor’s office with my camera, backpack and a water bottle, because by now I knew the routine: start with a blood draw and return hours later to have my own enriched blood returned to my body. The four hours or so in between procedures was an opportunity to walk through the lakefront parks, specifically the Lincoln Park Zoo environs. It was cool and cloudy, but I was determined to go birding because I knew it was likely my last outing for at least a week or two.
I was early for my appointment, so I got off the bus at Fullerton and walked in along North Pond. The first bird I saw was the kestrel above. It was just far enough away to practically elude my 300mm lens. A bit later there were two Downy Woodpeckers and a strangely decorated tree.
After 20 or more vials of blood (I thought it best not to count, but it was practically a whole tray full) I was on my own until 2:00 p.m., so I started slowly on my walk. I decided to visit South Pond since I had never been there for birding as far as I could recall, and there were two rare-for-this-time-of-year birds hanging out there. South Pond is part of Lincoln Park Zoo. I basically avoid Lincoln Park Zoo because parking is ridiculously expensive, but the Zoo itself is free and because I had arrived on public transportation, this was a delightful discovery. On the way, I encountered a pair of Northern Cardinals. Then it was on to the water.
Basically the two rare birds were the Green-Winged Teal at the top of the post and the American Wigeon. But there were a number of other birds to see quite well in the water. And since I haven’t been able to visit the lakefront nearly every day like I used to, I was quite happy to get up close and personal with a few individuals.
The zoo-resident flamingos don’t “count” but they were fun to see, adding a tease of warm-climate connection to a drab Chicago winter.
Of course there were plenty of Canada Geese and Mallards, but there were also a couple Northern Pintails, Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes and Wood Ducks.
I’m so glad I got the opportunity to see these lovely ducks before I went under the needle, so to speak. My blood went back into my right knee and my left foot. My right knee was already familiar with this sort of thing from months ago so it didn’t seem to be too bothered by it, but my left foot was not happy for the rest of the day and evening, which made hobbling around the house a bit difficult. Thanks to my friends Linda and Ed for picking me up and taking me home from the train station. I decided upon one crutch to use more as a deterrent negotiating the commute on Wednesday, when I was good enough to walk to the train, however slowly. By Wednesday evening I was feeling much better and by Thursday I was practically dancing. I still have a little residual pain and swelling but it’s encouraging to be recovering so quickly and I am hopeful this might be it for a while. I am disappointed to learn that my doctor is moving his clinic away from the park, though!
I think I’ve found one reason why my feeders have been left alone lately. Saturday I came home from birding and looked out the back porch windows. There was a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the flowering crab. I didn’t know if I’d be able to document the occasion as usually the minute I go for the camera, the bird vanishes. But this one not only stayed, but after preening in my flowering crab, she moved over to my neighbor’s fence and sat there for the longest time, even tolerating me coming out the back door and taking photographs for several minutes. This is obviously a young bird. She even looked a little bored.
I couldn’t go to the Portage Saturday. When I got there, the entrance to the parking lot was blocked by two forest preserve vehicles and roped off. I realize now that a tree close to parking was being removed. I turned around and went to Ottawa Trail, not knowing what to expect this time of year.
There were obstacles on the trail everywhere, which made the desolation and quiet all the more interesting. I guess.
It was all I could do to get pictures of the White-Throated Sparrow and a lovely Song Sparrow as they foraged around in the vegetation. There was a Winter Wren but I couldn’t focus quickly enough. The monster lens is all the more challenging in the cold with gloves.
I’ve wanted a decent photograph of a Dark-Eyed Junco all winter. I’ve seen them in my yard very early in the morning. I’ve seen small flocks of them on occasion. But I can’t get one to sit still long enough. This is strange after I’ve had them practically walk up to me on previous occasions. So the one below will have to do for the moment.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the Canada Geese on the Des Plaines…
Desperate to capture anything that moved, I followed this fox squirrel for a while.
And could not resist a shot at the annoying police helicopter hovering overhead. The thought crossed my mind they might be looking for someone. I can verify that if the birds were scarce that morning, humans were even more so.
There was some lovely tree fungus on the way out.
I went to the Portage yesterday before I started my annual Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread Manifesto, the loaves from which I will likely continue to distribute into the New Year. The only thing better than the smell of bread baking is cinnamon bread baking. The candlelight service last night was absolutely gorgeous and I’m glad I took part, although I almost fainted from continually standing up to sing carols in between the parts of the service we sang as a choir, all arranged artfully around prayers and the homily and… I was glad to come home, tuck the birds in and go to sleep. It’s good to feel like all is well, if only for a moment or a day. I didn’t get through any of my household projects, but there’s still next weekend. Today just feels like a good day to linger, play music, write, and restore. And dream about longer days filled with more music.
It’s been a busy week and the weekend will be non-stop, so I wanted to drop in for a moment or two before I go to leave for the Christmas Bird Count this morning. I started to write this last night but knowing I had to get up at 3:30, I quit trying to finish it! These are just a few pictures from last Saturday.
I went to the Portage. It was a bright, sunny, cold day. The snow was all gone from the blizzard earlier in the week. In spite of these favorable conditions, there weren’t a lot of birds. I think I walked in for about 20 minutes before I finally started to hear and see the birds below… a Northern Cardinal who kept trying to hide, and a few White-Throated Sparrows.
The water on the Des Plaines River was flowing, so there were some Canada Geese. There were several Mallards too but they were too distant for pictures.
Above is what it looked like in my yard the previous weekend… Last Saturday after the Portage I tried to spend a little time in the yard after all the snow was gone. As long as the goldfinches are happy… Although it was hard to get a picture of them unless it was through the porch windows.
Here’s an American Tree Sparrow. I expect to see a few this morning. Weather-wise, we are warmer than we have been and we should have some sunshine, so it will be interesting to see what the bird mix is today.
Well, I best be on my way. Tomorrow will be a full day of singing, partying and discussion. Below is the beautiful concert poster one of our members, John Tandarich, made for tomorrow’s two performances of Ola Gjeilo’s Luminous Night of the Soul. Our choir holiday party will be afterward and then I have a Soul Connections meeting at 4:00 so I will be out all day after another early rise.
Some days spring seems inevitable, others it seems to be lagging behind a cold front. I’m trying to get caught up with posts that have escaped my ability to sit down and write them. So these pictures from two weekends ago start off the Slow Spring documentation. I was joined by my friend Lesa and we started off early at the Chicago Portage. Note for Sunday birders: it was easily an hour past sunrise but the forest preserve employees had not shown up yet to unlock the gate to the parking lot. We waited perhaps five minutes…
Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage
I was hoping an earlier start might reveal more activity, perhaps a mammal or two, anything different. But just as I can’t predict surprises I apparently can’t predict nothing happening either. Maybe for the birds, waterfowl in particular, nothing seemed out of whack. Except I wonder what happened to the Mallard on the upper right below, who seems to have lost a lot of neck feathers, perhaps getting caught in something while he was dabbling for food. He otherwise seemed to be okay.
The stream scene at the Portage hadn’t changed too much for the Canada Geese, except that there were fewer of them than the last time. We walked out the back trail by the train tracks that leads to the Des Plaines River and saw distant Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers, but for the most part, the birds were just too darned far away to see well without a scope. My monster lens managed to identify three Wood Ducks hanging out on a fallen limb enhanced with detritus and trash.
Wood Ducks on the Des Plaines
Song Sparrows were the most visible passerine species…
And one lady cardinal volunteered a brief acknowledgment after sitting with her back to us for several moments. Her expression conveys to me, “Just what do you want?”
Frustrated by the lack of participation at the Portage, we stopped by the house to pick up the scope and drove out to Saganashkee Slough in Palos to see the reported Eared Grebe. Eared Grebe isn’t one we see often in this area, so it seemed like a worthwhile venture. The sun was getting higher which made backlighting a bit of a problem, but we appreciated whatever perceived warmth the sun had to offer. Thanks to generous and helpful birders already at the scene, we located the Eared Grebe. It was swimming around on the far side of the slough, of course, not too far from the men fishing in the first photo below with the Red-Breasted Mergansers flying. The second photo shows the wake behind the Eared Grebe and the last photo was the best I could get from such a distance. You can click on it to get a bit of a better view.
In contrast there were perhaps twenty or more Horned Grebes (top pix below), although I was unable to find one in breeding plumage. And those show-off Red-Breasted Mergansers again.
Horned Grebe, Saganashkee Slough
Mallard drake, Chicago Portage Woods, with neck feathers…
Apologies are in order, I have been a bad blogger lately. It’s not for laziness so much as exhaustion by everything else that has to get done in life. I also think my body slowing down with its latest complaint affects everything since it’s hard to totally dismiss chronic pain. But don’t worry, temporary remedies work well and I’m looking forward to engaging with a more permanent remedy starting in a few weeks. (And I’m thinking beyond the procedure: if I have to sit around a bit more for a few days maybe I can amuse a few of us with on onslaught of blog posts…)
I have more recent excursions to report as soon as I can. I also am waking up to thinking about those big life questions that surprise me every once in a while when I come to realize how I have succumbed to the general malaise reinforced by the bombardment of media, which are designed to distract from reality. I think we’re all hovering around our own versions of this existential enigma, and once I can find all the little nuggets of inspiration that I have gleaned lately from various sources, I will try to offer them up in the context of this blog space. Thank you for being patient and staying with me.