Riverside Lately

As fall migration has waned and winter’s grip descends, searching for birds takes on a different cadence. Maybe in the cold you could use to walk a little faster, but then you might miss that brief view of the only bird you will have seen for the last five minutes.

These photos are from three walks along the Des Plaines River on November 9, 11 and 14. The 14th was the only morning with a little sunshine, so those gray skies are quite real. The 9th was the last time I saw the Great Blue Heron and not all that well.

Mallards predominate, predictably. The drakes’ deep green heads gleam in sunshine. Or even in cloud cover.

There were two Red-bellied Woodpeckers interacting on the 9th and one showed off its red belly.

This is the Des Plaines River looking north from the Joliet Avenue bridge, with a low water level, framed in the filigree of tree branches that have lost their leaves.

I guess the Golden-crowned Kinglets were easier to see without leaves in the way.

It’s also deer season again.

Dark-eyed Juncos are abundant but not always easy to photograph, especially being gray birds on gray days.

Of course there are plenty of Canada Geese too. This group must have attracted my attention as they stood in the river looking as if they were trying to figure out where to go next. I also liked the lone goose taking a one-footed nap with one eye open on me.

Here’s a sunnier look to the south from the Joliet Avenue bridge.

After crossing the foot bridge on Monday the 14th, I caught a brief look at a Carolina Wren.

I also had a Song Sparrow perched for a moment.

American Goldfinches are still busy eating all they can before they start relying on my backyard feeders. I look forward to them giving the House Sparrows a little competition.

I was surprised to see an Eastern Bluebird on the Riverside Lawn side. I don’t know why I can’t decide on just one photo. Probably because I took too many of them.

Here’s what the trail looked like on Monday. Not quite barren yet. And I have passed by that fallen log a million times without looking at it very closely. I suppose with less distraction the landmarks will become more evident.

I have chosen to stay in this morning. There may be a light freezing drizzle. The previously predicted snow is not exactly happening, now described as a “wintry mix.” I’ll go for a swim midday when I perceive the pool to be less crowded. Then I need to practice the line dance before tonight’s choir rehearsal. It’s just one of those days. I’ll get back to wandering around with the camera tomorrow.

Cold, Snowy January – Part 3

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.

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A freight train taking up the background.

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.

Fall Migration Begins

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Tennessee Warbler

There was no time for birding last weekend. So I decided to visit the Chicago Portage two days in a row this weekend. It’s not a difficult decision to make this time of year. I took my chances that the rain Saturday night might cause a little warbler fallout and I was not disappointed. Not many species but it was still nice to see some activity.

Apart from birds, I saw more Monarch Butterflies the last two days than I have all summer, when I have occasionally seen only one or two. Yesterday I am sure I saw at least 15, which is still nothing compared to previous years.

The other late summer pleasure is spider webs like the huge one on the left below. On the right, the flowers are still laden with the last night’s raindrops.

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere both days, but in particular yesterday. I estimated there could have been a hundred but I reported a conservative 76.

The two robins below seemed to be arguing over the lower bird’s perch.

On the Des Plaines River, one Great Blue Heron and one Great Egret were still present on Saturday, but Sunday morning they were gone.

GBHE and GREG Portage 09-02-17-3862Indigo Buntings were still a presence but getting a bit harder to find. They are likely getting ready to leave.

INBU Portage 09-03-17-4235INBU Portage 09-02-17-3666Likely INBU Portage 09-02-17-3973INBU Portage 09-02-17-3901Also nearly absent are Red-Winged Blackbirds.

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Red-Winged Blackbird

For excitement, on Saturday I focused on the Red-Tailed Hawk below when it landed in a tree across the water, and then got lucky enough to capture its takeoff when it left.

So where are the warbler pictures? I didn’t get them all, but below are a few. The Orange-Crowned was there Saturday. Apparently it is early because I got the “rare” warning from ebird yesterday when I tried to add it before developing my pictures. I hope the image below will be enough proof.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Blackburnian Warbler

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Black-and-White Warbler

I heard several Warbling Vireos and Saturday I managed to photograph one.

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Warbling Vireo

The Carolina Wren below was a surprise. This appears to be a youngster. I fussed over the image for a while but decided it has to be a Carolina, even if the eyebrow isn’t finished-looking, the bill, the reddish color and the upturned tail indicate Carolina Wren. I also heard one sing, likely it was this one trying out its pipes.

Below is how the Portage looked yesterday.

Portage 09-03-17-4557Abundance below, of Pokeweed berries and Jewelweed blooms. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any hummingbirds enjoying the Jewelweed.

The shelf fungus seemed a bit diminished on this visit.


Shelf Fungus Portage 09-02-17-3790Below, three first-year birds.

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

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European Starling

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Mourning Dove

The cardinal is a likely candidate for first-year status as well.

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Northern Cardinal

Another view of the Portage, showing off all the native wildflower planting done lately.

Portage 09-02-17-4016I couldn’t decide which photograph of the Common Yellowthroat below to include, so here are both.

COYT Portage 09-02-17-3671COYT Portage 09-02-17-3670And one more of a Tennessee Warbler, adorning Giant Ragweed. Tennessees were most numerous yesterday.

TEWA Portage 09-03-17-4459Apologies for being absent of late. My work situation is in flux, which creates a different kind of distraction. But I promise I’ll be back soon with an update from the yard. It’s been cool enough overnight to leave the windows open all weekend. I think Fall is my Favorite Season.


Summer Dreams Close to Home

MALL 6-25-17-0598If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.

Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.

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Warbling Vireo

Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).

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Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.

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Juvenile Baltimore Oriole

Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …

After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.

One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.

Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.

And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.

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Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.

I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.

One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.

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Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.

The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.

All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.

Swamp Milkweed 6-24-17-0438On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.

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Unidentified Invasive Plant

A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.

And one more of the Carolina Wrens.

CAWR 6-24-17-0630McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!

Familiar Haunts

Carolina Wren, Chicago Portage

Carolina Wren, Chicago Portage

I’m trying to conserve energy for my upcoming trip, but beautiful fall weather and an extra hour of sleep were all I needed to get me out of the house yesterday morning. I went to the Chicago Portage and then McGinnis Slough, to witness the change of seasons.

Chicago Portage

Chicago Portage

Canada Geese gathered in groups of six to twenty-four birds, and I counted 126 total. Not a lot by Canada Geese gathering standards perhaps but plenty for a small preserve. I looked for Cackling Geese but there were none mixed in.

Canada Goose, Chicago Portage

Canada Goose, Chicago Portage

We’ve had some substantial amounts of rain the past week, along with cooler temperatures, contributing to the arrival of leaf color almost everywhere but the Portage. It has its own palette.

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I was lucky early on to see this Carolina Wren who also appears at the top of the post. He was busy with a worm, which explains to me why he’s still around.

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The light was creating interesting reflections wherever there was clearer water.

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After the geese, the most numerous species represented yesterday was White-Throated Sparrow. I am used to seeing a lot of them on the lakefront but have never before seen 50 or more here. I caught one sitting. They were moving in flocks feeding in the ample brush and dried weeds on either side of the water. Song Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and Fox Sparrows were interspersed with them but I could not single them out for a photo.

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White-Throated Sparrow

Convinced that I’d seen and heard everybody available at the Portage, I moved on to McGinnis, where the colors were a bit more varied.

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

Here the species of the day, at least on land, was Yellow-Rumped Warbler. I had brought the scope but forgot the tripod I was supposed to grab on a second trip back to the house before I left, so I was not able to view any distant birds in the water. Not that I could have taken photos anyway. The two Trumpeter Swans who hang out were in the middle of the largest portion of the water instead of hugging the far shore, but they still looked like white blobs in a picture.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I took advantage of a Ring-Billed Gull who flew over instead.

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A little autumn color goes a long way as we say goodbye to warmer weather.

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One more Yellow-Rumped Warbler for good measure.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, McGinnis Slough

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, McGinnis Slough

Once upon a Wren

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Actually this is thrice upon a wren. Last Sunday I visited the Chicago Portage, and although I did not see the Carolina Wren, it sang three beautiful songs for me that I was fortunate to capture. The picture above is from two weeks before, the last time I saw him. Here are his three songs (second clip has two songs):

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

I also was lucky enough to hear (and briefly see) a Winter Wren. This is a bird whose song I have wanted to hear for a long time. Now I can hardly wait to hear it again. The picture above is not the same winter wren, only the last picture of one I could find easily. It’s hard to believe such a tiny bird can make so much music.

House Wren

House Wren

Forward one week to yesterday. I could not access the Portage because of flooding, but I did manage to visit Ottawa Trail Woods North where I heard and saw this House Wren. Maybe he’d been up all night with the weather, but he managed to sing and show his face.

I have already noticed one thing in the field. When I stop to record, it’s as if I suddenly become part of the environment. The birds almost seem to lose their fear and start appearing from everywhere. I suppose the simple explanation is that I am not moving, but I can be very still without recording and it does not produce the same results. Maybe I am more relaxed than watchful, or attentive in a way that only birds could respond to. I suspect they know I am listening to them and they prefer that sort of attention to gawking at them! Whatever it is, it’s pretty amazing.

Hope Spring(s) Eternal

Carolina Wren, Chicago Portage

Carolina Wren, Chicago Portage

However deceiving the weather may be, the birds are on schedule. I checked on the Portage and McGinnis Slough last Sunday morning. A grey, chilly day, with a forecast of some snow in the arfternoon. But this lovely singing Carolina Wren was my reward at the Portage. He was a bit too far away to get the clearest image, but he kept on singing.

Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

And of course a Song Sparrow announced his presence.

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And a Canada Goose blowing in the wind.

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However common Mallards, the males are beautiful this time of year.

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And an American Robin for good measure.

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The Portage was just barely waking up.

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

So I went to check McGinnis Slough.



Most of the waterfowl was, as usual, far away, but I managed a picture of this male Bufflehead.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

One of two Red-Bellied Woodpeckers checking out this tree stump.

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Many Grackles, this one caught in flight.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

And my first warbler of the year – predictably a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, but still very nice to see.