Spring Fever on Hold

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see Red-Winged Blackbirds arrive at the Portage and start singing. It’s likely an intense desire to embrace any sense of Normal.

All these photos are from a quick trip to the Chicago Portage last Sunday morning, after the clocks were set ahead. There were not a lot of birds, but I managed to capture a few.

I’m happy to see the Robins returning too. The anticipation of spring is palpable. Now, if I can just get over the time change. It’s hard to get up in the morning, in the dark. Even harder perhaps knowing that nearly everything has been put on hold for voluntary, and increasingly involuntary, “self-distancing.”

After a fairly well-attended choir rehearsal on Wednesday, we received notice yesterday that the temple will be closed for the next four weeks, which totally puts on hold our entire schedule. We were to sing on Sunday and prepare for our special Choir Sunday on the 29th, but that’s not going to happen. No rehearsal, no services. We will stay tuned, but I know without rehearsal, it will be harder to hold those notes when we resume.

I managed to capture this Rusty Blackbird flying in with the Red-Wingeds, likely on his way north.

Even European Starlings are returning. They used to be present year-round but in the last few years I’ve missed their presence in the dead of winter.

There are always Downy Woodpeckers, though I might not always see them.

Same goes for the Black-capped Chickadees. It was chilly and windy but the days are getting longer and the birds have their work ahead of them.

Flyovers included a singular Ring-Billed Gull and One American Crow. I suppose Crows are a reminder of what happens if you don’t “self-distance”, as in the spread of West Nile Virus.

On the trail that runs behind the opening in the fence and runs parallel to the Des Plaines River, I witnessed a flurry of White-Breasted Nuthatch activity with what appeared to be one male and two females.

I missed any opportunity to snatch the last Super Moon because it was pouring rain on Monday night, but here’s a glimpse of what it looked like back home after swimming on Tuesday.

One more of this buff blackbird.

The extra time to lay low has given me an absurd sense of precarious calm, in that, I suppose, it takes a little pressure off the time crunch that normally accompanies my daily routine, even if it adds a new, rapidly-changing stress. Suddenly all the solo activities that I squeeze into tiny time fragments are clamoring for attention. Among them are playing more music, processing more pictures and writing more blog posts… There’s a desire to commence spring cleanup too. The challenge will be to stay awake. If I’m at home and sitting on the futon with my laptop, naptime is a real threat.

I hope for your wellness and safety, wherever you are. As much as we must distance ourselves physically, we need to come together in spirit all the more.

Quick Portage Check-up

I have been trying to take advantage of any better weekend weather since I got back from Mexico, specifically just to wander the Portage and see what’s going on. Last weekend, Sunday was beautiful and warm, but I had to spend the morning indoors singing in the choir, but even though I didn’t have high expectations for an afternoon walk, I thought anything might be interesting. As it turned out, I heard only a few birds and saw absolutely nothing save some Canada Geese and a Red-Tailed Hawk. I went out again yesterday morning, to take advantage of the only sunshine this weekend, and after walking for nearly half an hour to only hear a few birds, I finally caught up with a flock of foraging sparrows and the woodpeckers and Blue Jays I had been hearing.

Canada Geese – when there was open water

Yesterday’s stars were a couple Red-Bellied Woodpeckers.

The Downies were busy too.

When the flock first appeared it seemed to be mostly Dark-Eyed Juncos and White-Throated Sparrows. They weren’t particularly interested in coming any closer to me. But it was a delight to just stand still and watch the flock forage and move through. And when the sun was shining, it was nearly warm on my back. It was otherwise seasonably cold yesterday, with hardly any open water.

White-Throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Tree Sparrow – found in my photographs later

There were likely a few more cardinals around than the two I saw briefly. Below is one of them.

Northern Cardinal

One of a few storyboards along the trail…dressed in snow and ice.

And right behind the storyboard location appeared something I wasn’t expecting so late in the morning – a foraging White-Tailed Deer. I didn’t want to disturb her so after we connected with a few photographs I turned back and made my way out of the preserve.

I was surprised to turn around and see a Brown Creeper busy poking up this tree.

Throughout the morning the Blue Jays were noisily carrying on but they were quite distant when they finally appeared.

In all maybe there were four robins yesterday morning. I’m sure there’s a larger flock somewhere.

Grey Squirrel…
Song Sparrow – as at the very top of this post

I will be back soon with warmer memories from Mexico. As of this moment, it has just started snowing. In the interim, I would like to leave with a quote from Bill Penzey which I read this morning:

“When they do their best to get us to abandon all hope is when we must embrace it more tightly than ever.”

Raptorous Encounters

A pair of Bald Eagles at the Portage

It never fails, when I have no expectations of seeing anything unusual, something unexpected occurs. It began last Saturday morning when I decided to visit the Portage. I was on my way out the last leg of the trail when I encountered a perched Bald Eagle. And then a moment or two later, his mate appeared. I took way too many pictures, never having an unobstructed angle, and the birds were distant, but their immense size made up for the lack of proximity.

It also seems no matter how hard I try, I can’t manage a timely blog post. But before I belabor that point, I promise this will be short.

There’s always a bit of a let-down in the fall with the shorter days and colder weather, but the colder months bring a whole new perspective to birding and once you figure out how to stay warm enough, it’s the perfect cure for cabin fever.

When the eagles finally took off they flew north toward Ottawa Trail. I suspect they have a nesting spot somewhere or were shopping for one. I hope to see one or both of them again soon.

Also at the Portage when I first arrived, were two Red-Tailed Hawks, ushered in by Ten Crows. I have never seen so many crows at the Portage. Likely the hawks got their attention and drew them in. But I didn’t even know there were Ten Crows in the vicinity. A Mini Murder.

Ten Crows at the Portage

As it turned out, only one hawk remained to soar around for quite a while, at a reasonable distance for a few photographs. The light was poor but the flight was skillful.

On Sunday morning I went downtown to visit the Lakefront Crows and had a couple raptorous moments there too. Like this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk…and then a Peregrine Falcon.

I will return with a full report on the Lakefront Crows and other recent avian encounters. The pressure of fall passerine migration has been replaced by encroaching holiday commitments. We always seem to be in a hurry. As we rush toward the end of the year… I hope you are finding some moments of peace.

Portage Promise

Never knowing what to expect but full of expectation is how I approach the Portage on a regular basis. So arriving late last Saturday morning was bound to be a mixed bag. I stopped on the bridge to talk with another birder I’ve run into lately there, and snapped the photograph of the female Baltimore Oriole below. And then as I started to walk, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t have time to capture it the first time but it came back and so the image above.

Baltimore Oriole (female)

As usual there were more birds heard than seen at this hour but I was content to see what I did. Indigo Buntings are still evading the lens, but I will have many more opportunities to endure their frustrating behavior.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are abundant and usually hard to spot, but I found this busy nesting pair.

Tree Swallows used to nest here…this one looks like he’s thinking about it.

Tree Swallow

Warbling Vireos…I always hear several of them, but they are normally very hard to see. However this one was singing and perched at a comfortable height for me to capture him.

This is the time of year when dandelions get a bad rap, but I found it interesting to see a Song Sparrow eating the seeds before they had a chance to disburse. So there, I have proof that dandelions aren’t just attractive to pollinators but they are also a source of food for birds, and of course humans. We may need them some day!

One of the two Green Herons was hunting. At one point it took off across the water and caused a sunning turtle to slide off its stump. There were a lot of turtles out. Click on the images below and you can see what I mean.

A few more pictures of Portage breeders… I’m leading one more walk tomorrow morning as an auction donation to Unity Temple and the forecast is for thunderstorms. But the weather changes every few minutes. We had the same forecast for this morning and except for a few thunderclaps around 6:15 a.m. and a little rain, now it is cloudy but clear. I am hoping for the same sort of cooperation tomorrow, it will make dealing with the muddy spots a lot easier.

Red-winged Blackbird (female)
American Goldfinch (female)

It’s been a great year so far for robins taking advantage of all the earthworms the rain has stirred up.

Even with all the rain it’s still better to be outside!

Spring Returns

Black-throated Green Warbler

When I came back from Texas two weeks ago, the weather in Chicago was fairly pleasant and I mused I could have two springs! No matter that the Saturday before I got home there was snow on the ground. But just as we slipped into May, when it seemed reasonable to expect things would start warming up a bit, northeast winds picked up and although we weren’t freezing, the windchills were in the 30’s. It’s an understatement to say there has been a lot of rain. The downpours have brought most of the trees into leaf and encouraging emerging plant life everywhere. Then, this past Thursday morning, a lot of migrant birds were down from the skies from the previous evening’s rainstorm.

I’m too far away from the lakefront now to go off searching for rarities on my lunch hour, but I took Friday off so that I could scope out the Portage before my bird walk on Saturday. It turned out to be the nicest day of my three-day weekend. Although it started off chilly and windy, when the sun emerged a little before 10:00 AM all was forgiven.

Magnolia Warbler

I just finished getting through Friday’s pictures last night – it seemed there were way too many, but I discovered three more species in them to add to the list with a grand total of 54 species, 13 of them warblers. Which isn’t super fantastic but it’s credible for the Portage.

As for the Texas pictures, I managed to send some to Field Guides Saturday night and now with that off my plate I can go back through all of them and start developing for my own purposes. Time, technology and energy being available in inconsistent quantities, this will take me a while.

So in the meantime, here are some of the spring migrants from my walk on Friday, and there will likely be some more from this visit and Saturday’s outing as I try to keep up with everything that seems to be happening this month.

American Redstart
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) (robber baron pose)

This is all I can manage for now. I hope to report back soon with lots more!

Black-throated Green Warbler

Christmas Eve at the Portage

American Tree Sparrow

Christmas Eve morning was bright, sunny and cold. I thought the sunshine would at least bring forth a few birds, and I was right. Not many species were present, but when I finally caught up with the flock of Tree Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows, Juncos, Cardinals and Goldfinches, it was possible to get a few photographs, particularly of the Tree Sparrows. And we had very few interruptions. Unlike other times of the year, there were no runners, cyclists or dog walkers.

White-Throated Sparrow

There must have been a dozen Cardinals but they weren’t all that easy to capture. Indeed everybody seemed to be looking for as much cover as possible. It stands to reason. Without leaves on the trees there aren’t too many places you can quickly disappear to.

I’m contemplating going a bit farther afield tomorrow as I crave some open space to match the open space I feel mentally and emotionally this weekend.

A Dark-Eyed Junco escaping my focus.
A Red-Tailed Hawk sailing by.
A female American Goldfinch in a pensive moment.

Downy Woodpeckers are apt to forage along with the sparrows in the winter, looking for dormant bugs in the dead stalks. Here’s one enterprising little bird.

I hope to be back before the new year, but if I don’t manage it, best wishes for all our positive thoughts, compassion and love to come together and make a better world. I can only hope we have hit bottom or will very soon, so that the only way is up.

High Pressure

White-Throated Sparrow

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.

American Tree Sparrow

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.