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 The pressure of fall passerine migration has been replaced by encroaching holiday commitments.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. 

A Kinglet-Sized Rescue

Portage with Mallards - 10-28-18-3924I had no plans to go out yesterday. I slept in and so did my birds, even after one or two Zebra Finches announced theoretical sunrise around 6:28 a.m., because it was dark and cloudy. But then the sun broke out during breakfast and after I checked the radar it looked like we had a two-hour rainless window so I decided to see what was happening at the Portage. No sooner did I leave than the sun went behind the clouds.

Photography in next-to-no light was almost not an option, but I couldn’t imagine going out without the camera. I hadn’t gotten too far beyond the Mallards and Canada Geese before I encountered a Golden-Crowned Kinglet in distress.

GCKI Rescue - 10-28-18-3997The bird had a long, skinny twig caught in its primaries. I put my camera down to help, but when I reached for the bird it flitted a few inches to avoid me. I managed to grab the offending plant matter and the Kinglet immediately wrested itself free. Glad I could help this little bird continue, and it gave some purpose beyond my need to escape the “other reality” for a while. After the encounter, it seemed I was seeing more Golden-Crowned Kinglets than anything else. Unfortunately they move so quickly they were hard to capture in low light.

GCKI - 10-28-18-4023

It just so happened that I had to replace my cell phone on Friday. It was a case of new software meets old hardware: the latest update wreaked havoc on the old phone. So I put the new cell phone camera to use to capture some stirrings of autumn color at the Portage.

img_0002img_0024img_0014img_0006

Hawk migration continues. Below, some aerial dynamics of a Northern Harrier.

I was going to visit the dirt road that runs along the railroad tracks and faces the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District property but when I encountered the buck below staring at me, I changed my mind.

Buck - 10-28-18-4016

Common Milkweed was everywhere this past summer and I have a feeling it will be even more prevalent next year.

Milkweed pods - 10-28-18-4018

Two Turkey Vultures flew over in the grey sky…

The only birds that stood up to the lack of light were Mallards and Canada Geese, and then just barely.

Not much else to report, really. I’m surprised the Mourning Doves showed up as well as they did.

MODO - 10-28-18-3990I still have images from the previous weekend’s last organized walk…and then I’d better be focused on preparation for the choir’s three-day tour to St. Louis. I may not be seeing many wild birds for a few weeks. Maybe I can recruit the indoor crowd.

img_0020Tree Fungus - 10-28-18-4047

Lazy Labor Day Weekend

COGR 9-2-18-8899

Common Grackle

At least today, on Labor Day, I decided to be lazy by not getting up two hours before dawn so I could go birding. After meeting at the destination on Saturday, we canceled the walk due to thunderstorms looming in the wings. Even so, I had stayed back with another participant to get a handle on the layout of the trail setup when suddenly a crash of thunder and lightning striking right in front of us convinced us it was indeed time to leave.

So yesterday I got up and decided I would not go far, but as long as it wasn’t raining or threatening to, I may as well try to see what I could find. I went to Ottawa Trail Woods and encountered some obstacles on the trail (above). It became even more evident that I was the only person to have traversed the river trail in a while as I managed to avoid only one of two spider webs strewn above the footpath. The first sign of life was the deer below.

Deer 9-2-18-8770

oven 9-2-18-8796

Ovenbird

There were not a lot of birds. Or at least not a lot of species. But this time I got to see an Ovenbird for a few seconds although it was nearly the only warbler I saw.

A dozen Common Grackles showed up in the trees right above my head. So much for dark backlit birds.

Ottawa Trail is usually good for Thrushes and I was not entirely disappointed. At least I got to see this Gray-Cheeked long enough to photograph it.

GCTH 9-2-18-8918

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Early on I saw one Cedar Waxwing, but knew there was no such thing as a solitary Cedar Waxwing and on my way back on the trail I encountered at least sixty in the branches of one tree. Click on the upper righthand photo below if you don’t believe me.

The bottomlands by the river were flooded from all the recent rain and I was able to relocate this Great Blue Heron after it flushed, when I surprised it by my walking the path even though at a considerable distance.

GBHE 9-2-18-8881I am still puzzled over the image below but the bug capture is more interesting…

HOWR 9-2-18-8811So it was mostly distant unspectacular sightings . A Red-Bellied Woodpecker, an Eastern Kingbird…

Indigo Buntings were nearly unrecognizable. The one on the right was an up-and-coming male hiding from me at the Portage which was where I went next.

The Portage still had a couple hummingbirds, perhaps the same ones I saw on Friday. Plenty of Jewelweed everywhere. A few years ago on a September day I saw what seemed like a hundred Ruby-Throated Hummers in one visit, all over the Jewelweed, but it was not repeated yesterday. If you look closely at the third image of the hummer you an see a little bit of red emerging on his young throat.

By the time I got to the Portage it was closer to midday, the heat was becoming oppressive and I didn’t expect to see many birds. So I appreciate one Gray Catbird after hearing them but never catching even a glance at one Friday.

GRCA 9-2-18-9002All my bushwhacking resulted in pollen all over the lens hood…

img_2910In front of me on the trail, a baby Snapping Turtle.

Baby Snapping Turtle 9-2-18-9026There were fewer dragonflies than last week. And I keep running into Eastern Commas that don’t want to pose correctly: or is it a Question Mark???

The Robins all seemed to be at Ottawa Trail yesterday with only a few at the Portage. I imagine it’s the same flock going back and forth.

AMRO 9-2-18-8840Monarch Butterflies are still coming through, although they will all be down to Mexico soon. Migrations of the soul…

Monarch 9-2-18-8941I came up with a new mantra this weekend, so I guess it’s only appropriate on Labor Day that I share it with you. I have been muttering “I have to stop working” for far longer than I want to recall. But I decided now my mantra should be, “I have to start writing.” I have been thinking about a book for the last several years. It changes every five minutes, but I think it’s finally starting to come together in my head because I found the first sentence yesterday. So it’s time to start writing it. Which may make my contributions to this page even more infrequent, I don’t know, it’s hard to imagine writing anything after working all day at a computer in an office. But by declaring my intentions sometimes I can force myself to get going so as not to risk eternal embarrassment. Thank you.