Suddenly the weather is summer, and with the heat after a long, rainy prelude, the trees are leafing out and spring migration is in full force. I was contemplating two other posts of recent outings but Tuesday’s visit to Riverside and Riverside Lawn demands attention first. I didn’t go out yesterday because I was helping a friend, but it’s just as well as I needed some extra time to process nearly 1,000 photos to begin this series.
There was a tremendous fallout of warblers along the Des Plaines River. While I anticipated as much – this was the kind of thing I dreamt about previous years while stuck sitting in front of a computer at work – I just didn’t expect the magnitude of this fallout. I literally saw so many individuals of several species, it was almost maddening. It took me 3 hours to cover a little over a mile, which up until now has taken me two hours tops. I was moving slowly anyway, as the morning grew hotter, but I just kept seeing more and more birds. I counted 16 warbler species. They will not all be represented here, but I have even more species and photographs to come from the day before at the Chicago Portage. So hang on, here we go. (I have decided to split this up into three or more installments or it will never happen.)
I started seeing Chestnut-sided Warblers right off the bat, which made me happy because I had not yet seen them this year.
They ran the gamut, from brightly-colored individuals…
To drab birds…
And somewhere in between…
If I accomplish nothing else in this first of many installments, I must pay tribute to the beautiful Prothonotary Warbler that is at the top of this post and appears in more photos below.
Seeing the Prothonotary so well and having the opportunity to photograph it was breathtaking.
I would like to continue but it’s late and I have to get up early to beat the heat tomorrow morning, so I will be back as soon as possible with some more birds from my big warbler day. Because I have to make room for even more birds seen since then!
I led two walks for the Unity Temple Unitarian Universality Congregation (UTUUC) auction again, on September 11 and September 25 this year. I didn’t take a lot of pictures, even though I was in much better shape than I was last time with the broken elbow. The pictures from the 11th are first and the ones from the 25th start with the Yellow-Rumped Warbler.
More than anything, it was good to get out with people from the congregation, most of whom I had not previously connected with, which was the whole point, beyond raising money, of offering a walk as an auction item. We had great conversations and the weather was good on both days, so I find myself looking forward to doing this again. And again.
I managed to capture this Chestnut-sided Warbler with a bug.
The Yellow Warbler below was deemed “rare” in that it was late to be seen on September 11, so perhaps I developed too many photos of it to prove I had seen it.
A Red-tailed Hawk flew over.
It was nice to see yet another Eastern Wood-Pewee.
I am always grateful to the bees that remind me the Canada Goldenrod, however strident in taking over spaces, is needed and appreciated by them.
A closeup of some galls that attach themselves to hackberry leaves.
Not a representative photograph at all, but below was my first of many Yellow-Rumped Warblers to come.
Below is a somewhat hard-to-see Blackpoll Warbler. You can always click on the image to see it better.
For a few days there was a juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak or two.
Finally started seeing some Ruby-crowned Kinglets on September 25th like the one below. I have since captured more – to follow eventually.
Magnolia Warblers just kept popping up all month.
One more of the delicately decorated Swamp Darner also at the top of the post. It was on its way somewhere on September 25th,
I led a walk this morning at Columbus Park – I was the only participant. I think I might return shortly with that adventure before I continue to plow through the accumulated backlog: for instance, I wound up going back to the Portage before and after the second walk and found it to be very birdy, so be forewarned.
I decided to visit Bemis Woods a couple times two weeks ago as it is on the way to the grocery store where buy my organic veggies and then I wouldn’t be wasting a trip running all the way over to the store just for a couple items the first time, and my weekly groceries the next. I have now changed my shopping day to Friday instead of Saturday, so… visiting Bemis could become a weekly event.
I wasn’t sure if I would ever visit Bemis after the installation of a “Go Ape” Zipline feature a couple years ago. It’s right off the parking lot. but I thought I would see how it was to walk the trails, figuring the pandemic had probably put a damper on Go Ape for a while. While it doesn’t take up the whole preserve, that much human activity, in addition to plenty of bike riders, walkers and runners…well, you get the picture for a slow-moving quiet person like me. Bemis is also huge and there are trails sprawled out leading to oblivion, or so it seems, but luckily the GPS on my phone confirms I am going back in the right direction.
Black-throated Green Warblers have been everywhere this season. Period.
I was delighted to find the female Black-throated Blue Warbler below in my photos.
I could not resist documenting this Blackpoll Warbler’s struggle with its prey.
Not to be outdone by the warblers chasing bugs, this Black-capped Chickadee showed me there are other interesting things to eat.
I have no idea what the plant below is but I liked the way it has gone to seed.
Another view of part of Bemis that is not woods.
Bemis is otherwise thick with tall trees like the view below, which makes seeing anything a challenge.
The Salt Creek runs through the preserve and there were Mallards at least one morning. It was nice to see some water still deep enough to afford waterfowl.
The asters below caught my eye. There are so many different types of asters, the more I learn the more confused I become. I’m glad the bee in the right-hand photo has figured it out.
Two more views of the Northern Flicker at the top of the post.
Below is a confusing fall warbler that has to be a Bay-Breasted but looks almost nothing like the ones below it in different light.
I have not seen many Chestnut-Sided Warblers this fall but am always glad when I do see one.
Below, some type of phlox and then golf-ball-sized galls that are found on Staghorn Sumac trees.
There’s always room for a Downy Woodpecker in my estimation.
This is still just the tip of the iceberg. However I have to use up more photographs soon or I won’t have room on my hard drive for the ones I have yet to take. Or something like that. I did get a bit of a reprieve last week when we had a string of rainy, cloudy mornings – which I devoted to projects I’m starting in my yard. We had cool weather and then we went back to hot and dry – and now we seem to be somewhere in between, but I am really hoping for some more rain, again.
The anticipation of seeing more birds after the long, hot summer is part of what has driven me to go out every morning. The other part came later – after doing so a few days in a row, it has occurred to me that I need these long, meditative walks every morning to stay sane.
The idea of retirement will be more than just finally having time to do what I want to do. It’s becoming more of a challenge of self-care and survival. I am becoming fiercely protective of what I have carved out to be Time Spent Not Thinking About Work – which to some degree unfortunately still exists and will lurk on the sidelines until I am finally completely done with it.
The Portage had warblers for three days last week and I took way too many pictures. These were all taken on September 6th. In spite of all the ones I discarded there are still too many. I am grateful for the Ovenbird at the top of this post. I have also become familiar with their cute little “blip” calls and I have heard many more than I have seen.
“Maggies” (Magnolia Warblers) and Redstarts seemed to be everywhere last week. I am beginning to sense the end of that now.
American Redstarts below.
The bright yellow throat of a Blackburnian Warbler is below.
Mixed among the warblers there have been a significant number of Red-Eyed Vireos like the one below.
Below, a far-away Blackpoll Warbler.
A Black-and-White Warbler blending into the tree bark.
Of course there are other birds besides warblers. Below is a young Gray Catbird.
And the woods have been filled with Thrushes. Below is a Gray-Cheeked Thrush.
Swainson’s Thrushes have been everywhere and every day since.
The Thrush below looked like a Hermit Thrush to me but it was way too early. I didn’t feel like challenging my sighting with these photos – I suppose it could be another Swainson’s.
As if you needed more glimpses of the forever moving Redstarts…
Though every once in a while they sit still…
More photos of my one cooperative Ovenbird.
I caught the Starling below just after I got out of my car.
I was really surprised to find a Golden-winged Warbler in my photos. They aren’t great images but this is a bird I don’t see too often, so it’s worth posting it.
Below is a Tennessee Warbler.
Baltimore Orioles should have been gone by this date but I heard one call and then saw this one later.
Maybe my best bird of that day was the Yellow-throated Vireo below. I particularly love how its blue legs came through.
Way too many birds in one day. I am exhausted trying to finish this post, so I think I will be back sooner with shorter ventures before I dive into the next day.
For what it’s worth we are having our second choir rehearsal in the sanctuary tonight, masked, socially-distanced, and dressed in our black choir attire (to show off our custom-made stoles) – to be videotaped singing for insertion into the Sunday service. A step forward. It’s so good to sing in the ensemble again.
Not always sure where I’m coming from with one-handed typing, but the slowness with which I have had to express myself has given berth to more measured thoughts, perhaps, and, like bird-watching, there is something almost meditative in it.
Before I stray further, I want to dedicate this post to my dear friend Linda Rios and her husband Ed who got me through my awful post-injury and surgery situation with loving aplomb. It occurred to me after I struggled to finish the last post that I was bereft in my focus and needed to at least acknowledge how much my friends have meant to me during this blotch on my existence.
These photos are from August 29th, mostly taken at the Portage. After I was done there I checked out what the Army Corps of Engineers has done to the part of Ottawa Trail that runs along the Des Plaines River, expecting there wasn’t much to photograph there except for the habitat destruction.
Below, a very cooperative White-breasted Nuthatch.
The Chestnut-sided Warbler below was pretty well-hidden but now that I can’t take any photographs for a while I am glad I managed to get these when I did.
The bird below is a Nashville Warbler.
The last of the Baltimore Orioles. I had one visit my feeder later that afternoon…
There were a few Indigo Buntings still around as late as September 19, which was the first bird walk I led after my surgery. Most of them looked like the two below.
On my way out of the Portage on August 29, I spotted this Cooper’s Hawk who just sat, and sat, and I took way too many pictures expecting that it would do something interesting. I was too exhausted by the time it finally took off.
A little Portage flora – I am always amazed at the height of the trees so maybe the cell phone conveys them somewhat. Then there are parts of the trail that are lined with blooming flowers now – a vast improvement over the burdock from years past.
So this is what Ottawa Trail is looking like now that the levee has been finished on one side of the Des Plaines. It was relatively devoid of birds but I expected that. Others have told me, though, that the levee affords great looks at the Des Plaines River when there are water birds present, so I shall have to check that out another time.
I was able to capture a few signs of life.
On my way out of Ottawa Trail, over the parking area, a Red-Tailed Hawk flew overhead.
Elbow-wise, the cast is gone, stitches removed, and I have 12 weeks of physical therapy ahead. I actually had one physical therapy session on Friday and was reassured I had chosen the right location when I heard a crow calling as I went back to my car. As I mentioned, I managed to lead bird walks these past two Saturdays and I am so grateful to the participants who showed up and helped me feel alive again. I didn’t master the one-handed binocular skill, but now that I am cast-free, I am able to raise my left arm enough so maybe I can go looking for a few more birds this fall even if I cannot commemorate the sightings in photos. In these uncertain times it’s all the more grounding to continue one’s connection with the natural world.
There were still some warblers on May 24, but the Bird of the Day for me was Red-Eyed Vireo. I had been wondering where these birds were, and then they all seemed to show up at once. Usually you hear them singing and don’t see them very well as they move through the trees chasing insects. But this time they were more often seen than heard. In some of these photographs you might actually be able to see the red eye for which they are named.
Many of the warblers I saw that day were females. The females tend to migrate later than the males who are in a hurry to set up their territories. Spring migration this year seemed strange for many reasons – the pandemic affecting where you could go to find birds, the weather which is always a factor, and I guess the knowledge in the back of your mind that birds are in decline and you wonder just how many you’re going to see anyway.
Below is a Yellow Warbler who likely is on territory for the summer. I recorded him singing, and you can hear him three times in the little clip below his picture. Some people find the mnemonic “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet” helpful in distinguishing this song from others they might be hearing.
I feel fortunate to have seen a Canada Warbler more than once this spring. Unfortunately they prefer somewhat shady spots which I guess they blend into better than bright sunlight. I love the steel-gray blue color of their backs. I would support a Pantone color called Canada Warbler Blue.
Northern Cardinals are all around but not seen too often. This one was far away but distinct.
Baltimore Orioles are getting harder to see now that they are busy rearing families.
Indigo Buntings are busy too but there are so many of them, they are easier to see.
This might have been the last time I saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Actually I’m surprised I got to see more than its tail. I still hear them, but only on occasion, certainly not constantly like a few weeks ago when they first arrived.
A couple more warblers – there seemed to be fewer American Redstarts this year, at least where I was. And I just learned something I never bothered to look up before about distinguishing the female Chestnut-sided Warbler from the male – the bright chestnut sides don’t extend as far down the side on the female. So the pictures below are of a female. And since I continue to hear a male singing at the Portage I can only wonder if there might be an actual breeding pair.
I still hear the Eastern Wood-Pewee but this might have been the last time I got photo ops.
The big surprise walking back in the opposite direction across the first bridge was to see this Robin’s nest right off the side of the bridge, in plain sight – and I had never noticed it before. Mom was in a nearby tree, waiting to revisit her brood.
A bird more often heard than seen..Gray Catbird.
I love this last picture of the Red-eyed Vireo. Having said that, I realized a few days ago that I need to bring more control to my blog posts when I take so many pictures and can’t decide what to do with them and invariably end up with too many – believe it or not, this is a pared-down selection. I really need to use my flickr page more often, so I stuck some other photographs there and if you’re really curious, follow the link to them. I will try to be back sooner with the final installment of the Memorial Day weekend excursions and reports from other destinations since. Hope you are staying safe and well and rising to the daily challenges.
It’s difficult to come to this page after the events of the past week. The Covid-19 depression cycle was insidious enough, but the pain from reopening the festering societal wounds that never heal makes it that much more difficult to rally myself. I started writing a song, the music coming to me over the kitchen sink where I get all my inspiration. I managed to write it down and then, since it is meter-friendly, started writing a few lyrics, but like many things I start and never finish, I don’t know when I will go back to it. At least I have a notebook I can find to write music in: I bought it a week or two ago to start writing down the Zebra Finch songs as they are solidifying. It still fascinates me how it takes years for the males to create and embellish on their songs.
I managed to go back to Goose Lake Natural Area on Saturday morning before the chaos ensued. It was almost like slipping into the fourth dimension if anyone else remembers that Twilight Zone episode. Except that I had to drive an hour and a half to get to another dimension, but I guess that makes it that much more real. I am saving those photographs for a future post.
Anyway, about the pictures for this post: about two weeks into working at home I decided that I needed to fit a walk into my daily routine, weather permitting, so I began taking a walk every morning before work, a tame walk by any means encompassing perhaps only a mile, but I could look for birds, particularly as it was spring migration. So I have been going out with binoculars and the camera and settled on a route that gets me out and back in time to go to work without feeling rushed or pressured, and always stopping to check on who’s in the backyard upon my return. The pictures in this post are from one particularly delightful morning roughly two weeks ago when I guess migration was in whatever kind of full swing it was finally coming to. It was overcast which didn’t help too much but the birds were there.
There were not as many White-Crowned Sparrows in the yard this year – I never saw more than one. This particular morning I was lucky enough to capture him. I am convinced he is the same bird whose little syncopated song I heard earlier.
More of the White-breasted Nuthatch at the top of the post.
And here was finally a Black-and-white Warbler who was practically at eye-level, making him easier to capture. This species navigates tree bark like the nuthatch.
This might be the only Tennessee Warbler I saw this spring. Certainly the only one I was able to photograph. Usually they are more common and noisy about it. I did manage to capture this one singing a bit.
I missed capturing an Ovenbird in my backyard, but it was likely the same one who was hiding in my apple tree in the front yard, below.
Thanks for visiting. I hope you are doing as well as possible. We all have our own limits, I suppose. I take a short nap when I’m just too tired to continue. But I always feel better getting up and doing something, and my indoor birds provide endless opportunity in that regard. I also revive every time I play music for them. That is how this whole thing started, and it’s turning out to be the one thing that sustains our spirits.
It’s all I can do to keep up with migration this spring, let alone the pictures I have taken…So I’m attempting to do this in chronological order but it won’t be easy. This past Saturday started out cool but sunny. I decided to start my walk in the opposite direction of what I normally do. Then I realized that I had forgotten to put my little portable stool in my backpack so I decided to walk back to the car to get it. As I walked, I heard the Great-Crested Flycatcher, and then saw him in one of the Redbud trees bordering the lawn behind the statue. The morning had promise.
Last Saturday was a riot of colorful birds. I counted a dozen male Indigo Buntings. They were everywhere and they were not particularly shy, so I took advantage of their fearlessness. You can see how the light affects the hue of the blueness, when actually their feathers are all black.
I ventured out to the gravel road that runs along the MWRD property and found two male Scarlet Tanagers. They were trading songs.
But I discovered a glimpse at a Summer Tanager later in my pictures.
For all the male Baltimore Orioles singing and displaying these last few weeks, I have seen only one or two females so far. But that’s because they’re busy tending the nest.
Yellow Warblers may stay and breed at the Portage. Invariably I hear them but don’t always see them. So I was glad to capture this one.
White-Breasted Nuthatches are present all year, but are not seen or even heard frequently now.
The female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak below is the last one I have seen. I am not aware of any starting families at the Portage, but it could happen.
We have had a lot of rain, and even more after these pictures were taken. There were two Canada Geese trying out the newly flooded waters.
So this time of year of course I’m looking for warblers wherever I can find them. I just calculated that over the last couple of weeks I have seen 21 species total. I haven’t been able to photograph them all, but most, sometimes discovering them in my photographs. I will try to post as many as possible. They won’t always be textbook-looking photos. For example, the Golden-Winged below I barely captured but it was the details from the photographs that I was able to identify it as a likely female.
Then there are the flycatchers. They can be confusing. I have since seen the Eastern Wood-Pewee again in the same location looking more like himself so I am guessing he was having an off day (typically he would look more pointy-headed).
On this day I saw this Turkey Vulture being escorted away by a Red-Winged Blackbird.
Song Sparrows are present, singing, and likely staying to raise families.
i keep hearing and sometimes seeing Chestnut-Sided Warblers every time I have been to the Portage since my first intimate encounter with one last Tuesday.
There’s a little rapids under the first bridge where the water runs out of the Portage. No water ever runs into the Portage, as far as I can tell, but It’s still nice to see the flow over the rocks.
More often heard than seen, Blue Jays are out and about but rarely available for photos, so it was nice to see this one.
I found this female Common Grackle to be attractive in her own way.
I had noticed this nest before but wasn’t sure anyone was using it until I managed to capture these two Goldfinches. You will probably have to click on the first photo to see the female poking her head out of it. I have since not been able to find the nest, which was not far from the trail, but it could still be there and hidden in all the plant growth that has occurred since.
Sadly, Black-Capped Chickadees are getting harder and harder to find. Long taken for granted, I am convinced they are in decline, at least locally. I caught this one in a hurry.
Here’s my Robin photo of the post.
As the leaves are finally coming out, it’s interesting to see how the spaces change.
Below is one of my favorite birds, a Blue-Headed Vireo. I have seen them a couple times this spring which is surprising to me, as I don’t think I have seen one for years.
Woodpeckers are busy everywhere.
And last for the moment, I finally was able to catch the male Eastern Bluebird in focus. He has a habit of posing in difficult places, but he sat long enough this time. And although I think I heard him this past week, I haven’t seen him since. I hope the pair is still nesting and I will be looking for baby bluebirds this summer.