Hints of Spring

I keep updating this post because I haven’t gotten around to finishing it. So before it becomes completely ancient history… this is from the beginning of the month of April. Still this year…! It was Saturday, the 3rd, and it started out a bit chilly but by midday we were experiencing summer temperatures which stretched into the weekend and beyond. Since there was plenty of sunshine I made sure I got out both weekend mornings. I visited the Portage on Saturday and McGinnis Slough on Sunday.

I have since been back to the Portage, last weekend just to get out – it was barely drizzly and very cloudy, so I did not get a lot of action. But we have since burst into more green and buds and flowers and the feeling is spring, full speed ahead. That visit will follow if I can get my act together.

I have not been able to discern whether a pair of geese are actually nesting at the Portage. Unlike previous years I haven’t seen any territorial fights breaking out.

If nothing else there were a lot of Northern Flickers. Not close enough to get great shots but I did manage to focus on them from a distance. They certainly were making a lot of noise.

Also taking advantage of the sunlight was a Northern Cardinal singing away above me.

Just before I left, a Red-Tailed Hawk decided to fly over and show off.

Something about the shape of the tree below and the clouds behind it captured my imagination.

Here’s another brief look at the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet at the top of the post. Oddly enough it was the only one I saw that day, although I heard a few more. They are usually good curious sports, albeit lightning quick ones.

One turtle and a couple Mallards – not a lot going on.

A Killdeer flew over, confirming I had actually heard at least one.

Barely hints of green among the ghosts…

Nothing like ducks and Duckweed… the smallest flowering plant on earth. I don’t know that I will ever get close enough to see the flowers.

The best bird of the day was the one I barely spotted flitting about as I sat on the bench near the parking lot, at the end of my walk – an Eastern Phoebe. Not a great photo, it was so far away. But I am always thrilled to see flycatchers return.

I am going to try to report back before ultimate migration madness takes over. I will go out this weekend for sure – I don’t know how much sunshine I can count on – and the winds have been blowing from the wrong direction lately. But there is no rain in the forecast

Springtime in November

Well it’s probably over, but we were basking in unseasonably warm weather and we could still stay above freezing for a while. The past weekend afforded two pleasantly warm days without rain, so I took advantage of them both and went birding. These pictures are all from Saturday morning at the Portage. In spite of the pleasant weather, there weren’t too many people on the trails early, so I had the opportunity to stand still and observe some birds without disruption. Below, a group of European Starlings hanging out, their antics and expressions which I found entertaining. If you click on one of the images you can scroll through them.

I expected to see sparrows and was not disappointed. The usual suspects were available. Below is a Song Sparrow I saw early on.

The return of Dark-eyed Juncos…

The subtle variations in plumage for Dark-eyed Juncos always intrigues me.

One White-throated Sparrow sat for more than a second. He was just far enough away.

It seems Fox Sparrows are always elusive.
Fall colors at the Portage

The Downy Woodpecker below volunteered for a photo shoot – you can scroll through…

Then there’s always a fascination with cavities…

Last week there were Golden-Crowned Kinglets available, this week i had more luck with a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

More fall colors…

I rounded a corner such as it was on the trail and encountered a young deer, who was then joined by two others and they took off gamboling through the woods.

It was nice to see some Canada Geese in the water.

There were a few Mallards is the water too – and in the air.

Below, White-breasted Nuthatches…

I was surprised by a noisily chattering Carolina Wren and managed to grab a couple photos as it flew up into the tree.

Below, a little melange of Portage characters.

A calmly perched American Goldfinch

Then there were Purple Finches and House Finches – together – making identification a bit confusing. The only Purple Finch I managed to get pictures of is below, and it’s likely a juvenile female.

Some of the House Finches below look a bit on the purple or raspberry side of the spectrum but they still appear to be House Finches.

Always nice to see a Red-Tailed Hawk, however briefly.

An indication of how sunny it was when I arrived…

So the last bird I photographed was the Hermit Thrush at the top of the post and below. I first saw it in the woods far from the trail, but in true Hermit Thrush fashion, it responded to my attention and came and sat on a branch directly in front of me so we could exchange thoughts.

If I can manage it I will be back with a post from the Portage in April – looking a bit like it did on Saturday, with no leaves on the trees yet. I found a plethora of photographs I had never managed to develop and it will be an interesting contrast of early spring versus late fall.

Late April Goose Lake

With the forecast of only one nice day this past weekend, I planned to go to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, which has become one of my favorite, if distant, destinations. One doesn’t know what to expect when venturing out these days. I knew I could count on the absence of crowds, even if there were some people walking, riding bikes, running, birding. Luckily this is a vast expanse and I could still feel quite alone most of the time, however I now take that sentiment in current context.

Starting down the Hebron Trail…

The walk is long to the Goose Lake part – at least it seems to take forever. There were not a lot of birds along the way this early in the season to distract me, but there was certainly a lot of up-and-coming moss.

The main attraction to me, then, was the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. The females haven’t started arriving yet as far as I can tell, but I wanted to be there when the males were setting up territories so I could hear them sing. With all the Red-Winged Blackbirds singing, they didn’t seem to vocalize in long phrases, but I did manage to get a recording, albeit with a lot of wind noise, of their characteristic rusty-crank-sounding song. The short song clip is below these photographs.

I might add that the Yellow-Headeds were far away and rather secretive. I want to go back in a few weeks to see if I can get a better look.

There were several Song Sparrows and I managed to get a few photographs of them. They had some lovely songs too. I almost wish I could have left the camera and recorded vocalizations, but it was windy that day anyway.

Another likely breeding sparrow in this habitat is the Swamp Sparrow. I was lucky to encounter the beauty below.

I miss Crows a lot. It’s been a chronic ache that started with my job location three years ago, made worse by the current situation banning visits to lakefront parks. So another thing I like about this location is that I always get to see Crows.

I confess I wasn’t paying an awful lot of attention to Red-Winged Blackbirds, but I did find this guy attractive. There’s a female in three photos below him.

I had to look hard to see the Goose on her nest below.

There were still a few Ruby-Crowned Kinglets here and there.

As I turned to go back, three crows were harassing a Red-Tailed Hawk.

I got distracted by a little more plant life and my first ladybug of the year.

There was an elusive Red-Bellied Woodpecker off the side of the wooded trail as I walked back.

I have been working harder than ever from home which was not at all what I expected when this whole pandemic thing began. As long as it’s raining I don’t mind so much. Oh well. Tomorrow is May 1.

Sunshine at the Portage

Wood Duck (Male)

The sunshine yesterday made all the difference, even if it was still quite chilly in the morning. The birds were enjoying it: I didn’t have to walk in for half an hour before I started seeing birds. Indeed, the sparrows from last weekend were all feeding just past the first bridge over the creek, and several Red-Winged Blackbirds were busy proclaiming their territories. There were not a lot of waterfowl, but mixed in with the regulars were a couple nice surprises, like the Wood Duck above.

My view over the first bridge – nothing in the water, but at least it’s not frozen.

Actually the first ducks I saw were Northern Shovelers. There were two males and one female. I think they’re quite striking.

This pair of Mallards might be staying. I caught the three below flying over the river.

Red-Winged Blackbirds on display.

The first fight of the day over territory was between two Downy Woodpeckers.

American Tree Sparrows were everywhere. This is another result of the tree removal, I’m sure.

Some Song Sparrows will be staying. I kept hearing one singing, but could not find his perch. The one on the ground below will have to do for now.

There was only one pair of geese, and I’m thinking it’s the same pair I saw last week.

Cardinals were abundant, if hard to capture.

I walked down to the Des Plaines to see if there were any more ducks or maybe a heron. The sunshine illuminated the graffiti under the bridge. There were about a dozen Common Goldeneye from my vantage point, but no herons. I liked the sunlit reflection of the trees in the water.

I never take pictures of people on the trail but it was nice to see this guy out early with his son and two dogs. It’s too bad they flushed the Wood Duck, it would have been nice to show it to them. Oddly enough for the beauty of the day, they were only humans I encountered. The accompanying landscape shots are just more bare branches and water waiting to wake up.

For as many cardinals and blackbirds that have been singing, I haven’t heard a robin until this one yesterday. Soon the neighborhood robins wlll be singing at four in the morning…

I left the Portage around 10:30 and drove to McGinnis Slough where I found enough surprises to fill their own blog post, so I will be back to report in a few days… I hope you are enjoying your own version of the anticipation of spring.

Crow Holiday Post

Two weekends ago now it is, I went to down to the lakefront to find Crows and whoever else might be hanging out. I was fortunate to be greeted by a group of five crows by Buckingham Fountain who remembered me from the last visit and indicated that by gathering around the same spot I fed them last time. I chose a better spot this time, I think, without a fence around it.

They didn’t seem too enthusiastic to see the cookies, but I suspect that’s because they’re youngsters and haven’t been exposed to them yet. I may run the experiment again next weekend and see if their reaction to the cookies is any different, because I’m sure after they were done caching and stashing all the peanuts they came back to check out whatever was left of the cookies. I say that because there were squirrels starting to show up.

There was a Cooper’s Hawk that flew into some trees which I tried to get a better shot of than the one below…

But since that didn’t happen, I walked down along the lakefront to see waterfowl. Most of the ducks were too far away to photograph, and they seemed to consist mainly of both Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers, a few Common Goldeneye and a couple Coots.

Inevitably there were a lot of Canada Geese. They flew into the lake from Butler Field at one point. As long as there is open water I have a feeling they won’t be going anywhere else anytime soon.

I came back inland and walked through Millennium Park seeing nothing of interest. But as I neared Randolph on the north end of the park, I saw some crows across the street so I followed them behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building where we have never met before. It seems like too staid a situation for peanuts but I picked a safe-looking corner, knowing the Crows would soon remove all the peanuts and no one would notice.

Thinking these are likely the same Crows that hung around Lake Shore East Park, I decided to see if they remembered the wall running along the Radisson parking lot that protects people and cars from falling into the empty lot below. The Crows picked up on the location immediately.

Apologies if this becomes a strange-looking post: I’ve been having issues with this new editor. Half the time I can’t see what I’m doing. It’s great!

Nothing makes my heart soar like the sight of a Crow in flight so I’m glad my friends obliged me that day.

Onward to the busy holiday weekend. I have Christmas Eve off of work this year thanks to the calendar, so the prospect of 4 days off in a row has given me a heady, almost drunk feeling of security that I can accomplish even half the things on my list. I am singing in a near-midnight candlelit service on Monday… I will try to report back soon. Until then, best wishes to all for a warm and loving holiday season.

Owls at the Portage

GHOW 04-08-18-9007Last year two fellows I run into occasionally at the Chicago Portage, Steve and Mike, told me they had seen a Great Horned Owl. I believe it was Mike who showed me his stunning photo of the owl sitting on a stump over the water. But I never saw the owl until two weeks ago making my return trip on the trail that runs along the south side of the stream, when I flushed it and watched it fly to perch in a tree on the other side.

Then last weekend I saw two owls perched on the same branch, looking down at me. The first owl decided to take off when I lifted the camera, but the second owl sat there and stared sleepily at me.

GHOW 04-22-18-0989So are they a pair? Most likely. I suspect the first owl is the female as it is larger. Then I wonder if they have a nest somewhere or if they’re shopping for one. Will I see baby owls? It’s more excitement than I can handle at the moment. But I do suspect that the owls’ presence will keep the other raptors I normally expect to see at the Portage away.

The Portage keeps changing. More trees coming down. I was saddened to see one of my two favorite birch trees in smaller pieces. I can’t imagine what was wrong with it.

I have seen Blue-Winged Teal the last two visits as well. I suspect they’re just visiting though and will go elsewhere to breed.

And a Canada Goose seems to have found her nesting spot in tree trunk.

CAGO 04-22-18-0877

Two weekends ago, it was Golden-Crowned Kinglets…

Last weekend there were a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers, although only one captured by the camera.

YRWA 04-22-18-0962

I was very happy to see a Tree Swallow last weekend.

Not so many sparrow species. Song and Fox Sparrows, still a few Juncos, and American Tree Sparrows still hanging on through the cold not-quite-spring-weather-yet.

Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow above, Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow below…

Woodpeckers: Downy, Red-Bellied, Northern Flicker…

RBWP 04-08-18-9079

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

NOFL 04-08-18-8910

Northern Flicker

A few more captures before I go… White-Breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, preening Mallard, American Goldfinch.