Two Days of Retirement

To celebrate August 31st being my last official day of work, I went to the Portage two mornings in a row, to look for the first signs of fall migration. I didn’t see an awful lot of species on either visit, but there were some nice looks. Best of all was feeling really free to take my time and not worry about checking my work email. I still have to get used to waking up in the dark, though, because I have walks to lead every Saturday in September and October.

Of course the obvious draw this time of year is the fall warblers passing through on their way south from their breeding grounds in the north. I didn’t see a lot of species and missed a couple, but so far I have seen a few warblers each day. They behave differently on their way back to their wintering grounds. They are not foraging in flocks and they are in less of a hurry. So while they may be harder to spot at times, it’s easier to concentrate on one bird at a time. Below are a couple American Redstarts.

I felt lucky to find this Bay Breasted Warbler in my photographs.

Magnolia Warbler, also at the head of this post

One of my favorites, a Chestnut-Sided Warbler, was being rather coy.

Not a warbler, but a nice to see Red-Eyed Vireo both days. The bottom photograph was taken the second day when the Vireo was eating poke berries with the Cedar Waxwings.

Thursday morning I managed to capture enough photographs of the Orange-Crowned Warbler below to justify my claim that I had seen one, since it’s very early for this species.

I just barely captured this Nashville Warbler.

Wednesday was cloudy.

Large flocks of Cedar Waxwings were present on both days.

Some closer views of the Waxwings Thursday, when they were busy eating poke berries.

Below is a beautiful wasp’s nest. I have a slightly smaller one in my crabapple tree this year as well…

Something else that I had a lot of in my yard before I removed nearly all of it, below, is Common Beggar Ticks which is native, and an annual – but doesn’t bloom until now.

On the first day I did manage to capture the Swainson’s Thrush below. I also saw a Wood Thrush but that photograph isn’t presentable.

Robins are looking scruffy this time of year. Most of them are juveniles.

When I first walked in on Thursday, there was a deer at the end of the paved path, and then a Cooper’s Hawk with prey landed in a tree above me, but I didn’t see what it had captured.

Unfortunately this Ruby-Throated Hummingbird was completely backlit in bright sunshine but it was still nice to see it perch right in front of me.

There were still a couple Indigo Buntings around.

Female Indigo Bunting

For once, there were more than one or two Monarch Butterflies. I realize this is probably the last I will see of them but it was nice while it lasted.

Below is a Chipmunk foraging in a tree.

A few scenes of the Portage and one quick look at the Des Plaines River where not much is happening at the moment.

Black-capped Chickadees are around all year but I don’t always see them. Sometimes I don’t even hear them. This one didn’t mind being seen or heard.

I am trying to navigate this new feeling of almost endlessness. Well, it doesn’t last for long. There is much to do, but less of a feeling of urgency or hopelessness as my work duties have all but vanished. I have agreed to remain with the firm as an independent contractor to help out with various projects while they still try to find and train my replacement. My stipulation was to assume any given morning with nice weather would be off limits for my attention as I will likely be out looking for birds somewhere.

Cloudy Days and the Christmas Bird Count

I participated in the Christmas Bird Count on December 19th. It was a cloudy, cool day. Not great for photographs, or for a lot of birds either, at least where I was, but it was good to see more people participating. I took both cameras with me, not knowing what I expected to do with either one of them.

If I start thinking about how long it has taken me to get back to finishing this post I won’t do it, so strike that thought and keep going. Below is a look at how the Fox River looked that morning.

I started out with the mirrorless and managed to get a rather nice view of this Red-bellied Woodpecker. Actually all the bird pictures in this post were taken with the little camera. I didn’t have to fuss around with adjusting for no light as much.

At some point we had stopped to listen for birds and saw this amazing honeycomb hanging from a tree.

We had Downy Woodpeckers (below) and a Hairy as well.

Hairy Woodpecker

It was almost not worth taking these photos of flying geese but you can appreciate just how dark and gloomy it was.

Learning more tree bark – this is a cherry tree, which the person who identified it said it looks like “potato chips.” I guess.

The fungus on this tree looks like a staircase to me.

The Cedar Waxwings were the most cheerful sight.

It’s hard to motivate myself to do anything beyond the have-to’s, these days. In particular, after the coup attempt – which is hard not to take personally – as much as I want to continue hoping I can exude a positive vibe that will land somewhere it’s needed, it’s hard to fight sheer exhaustion. But this comes and goes in waves. It’s been cold and gloomy too, which does not help. Time to get up and do something! I need to play some piano every day for the birds. Music is life.

I’m adding this White-Breasted Nuthatch that somehow didn’t make it into a Portage post of October pictures. Another mirrorless capture.

I’m not making any promises about when I’ll be back, but sooner or later I’m sure I will. It’s been confusing to be anywhere lately. Everything has a veneer of unreality to it. Maybe it’s just time to start asking the old questions again, even if we still can’t answer them.

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.

August Portage, Hot, Dry and Lazy

i kept struggling to write this post. In the meantime of course I have made more visits to the Portage. Maybe I can write this post now that I won’t be taking pictures for a while.

I was halfway into my morning walk today when I encountered someone walking toward me, about a block away. At that point I could not see that he was walking his dog, but he was not changing his path, so I started walking toward curbside to give us social distance. I tripped and fell suddenly on my left elbow. I could not get up, even with the dog walker’s help. So he called 911 and a nice woman from across the street offered me water. By this time I saw what I caught my shoe on – a circular piece of metal a little over a foot in diameter, strewn in the curb of the parkway: a perfect trap.

I’ll cut to the chase since I can’t type very well with one hand. I was taken to the emergency room because I became weak from the shock, x-rays were taken, and I have a broken elbow.

I am feeling much better, save the fact that I can’t go swimming and I can’t play piano, and I may have to take up dictation at this hunt-and-peck rate. In any event I saw an orthopedic surgeon this afternoon and he recommended surgery to stabilize the joint and attached tendon, because of my active lifestyle. Apparently the healing process will be faster as well as more efficient. I await a scheduling phone call.

Now on to some late August photos. I won’t be commenting so much… These photographs are from August 22, as I try to catch up with all my visits.

I think this was my last capture of a male Indigo Bunting for the season. The one below looks a little worse for wear. He was hanging out with a bunch of juveniles.

There were some Cedar Waxwings to be seen as well.

An Osprey flew over…

And less surprising, a Turkey Vulture

It was nice to see a Hairy Woodpecker. There are always Downies.

A juvenile Indigo Bunting

Miscellaneous Portage photos… the statue on a hot, dry day; the trail with towering growth on either side, which makes it increasingly difficult to avoid cyclists; an unidentified caterpillar; ripening poke weed berries; a strange, strangly-looking plant.

I think this is a Delaware Skipper.

Black-capped Chickadees seem to be around as we head into fall. I have missed them on several earlier occasions.

American Goldfinches are everywhere now.

Juvenile Song Sparrow

I’m not sure all these new formatting options are worthwhile, but it was one way to use all these photos of a juvenile House Wren.

Juvenile House Wren

I hope to be back soon with more from various localities. I have two Saturday bird walks coming up and it remains to be seen whether I can lead them. I don’t get many pictures on these occasions anyway, but it would like to witness at least some fall migration.

Double-dipping Goose Lake Natural Area

After groveling about making the long drive all the way up to McHenry County around Memorial Day, I went back on July 5th to celebrate my birthday and then again on July 25th. Needless to say now I’m getting used to the drive and the trail and I may have a hard time staying away before October which is when I plan to go back for Sandhill Cranes that purportedly congregate in the fallow farm fields.

I feel like I could start giving some of the individual birds names, like the Willow Flycatcher at the top of the post. I even heard a confirming “fitz-bew” on the last Saturday.