My windshield looked like this, this morning, when I went out to start the car so I could sing with the choir for our first choir Sunday in two years.
It fits this post, which is a little collection of wintertime visits that I never managed to mention. The first was a visit to Columbus Park on 12-30-21.
I had gone to see if a Greater White-fronted Goose was still visible after it had been reported for several days. But by this time the water had frozen and so many Canada Geese were sitting on the ice it was too hard to tell.
Still, it was a beautiful, sunny day with lots of virgin snow.
Another beautiful sunny day a month later, on January 30, 2022, I decided to visit the Little Red Schoolhouse after another snowfall. Below is a view of Longjohn Slough which borders the trail starting at the Nature Center.
A few birds were visible.
As I walked the trail, I came across a sign denoting the original location of the school for which the forest preserve is named.
Then in my yard on February 15, a Cooper’s Hawk sat for a long time in the redbud tree right outside the porch windows. I could not resist taking too many pictures. Here are a few.
I miss a lot of beautiful sunsets and can barely see hints of them through my kitchen or porch windows, but I tried to commemorate the winter clouds anyway.
I am full of music from singing at the service which was devoted to the Spring Equinox. What began as a cold morning has turned into a beautiful day. The sun is shining brightly. I hope this is my last windshield ice for a while.
When it occurred to me that nearly the entire month of February had gone by without another visit to the lakefront, I took advantage of last weekend’s beautiful weather on Sunday morning and went down to see the Crows and whatever else I could find.
In anticipation of however many Crows I could encounter and the chilly temperatures, I made a batch of Birdz Cookies to offer along with the peanuts in the shell. I was curious to see whether the Crows would remember the Birdz Cookies, which started out years ago as peanut butter-oatmeal-raisin and have gone through many healthier – and more delicious, I might add – modifications, while still remaining true to those three ingredients.
I didn’t see any Crows until I had walked past all of this.
I was nearly at the corner where I would cross Monroe and then Lake Shore Drive when the first Crow found me. I perhaps should mention that until I see a Crow, I don’t stop to take the offering out of my backpack. So the Crows recognize me before they see the food. Either they have x-ray vision (which I wouldn’t doubt), or I fit the description of Crow Feeder, or both.
It wasn’t long before there were three more Crows.
And then the Birdz Cookies became the preferred snack. I was thrilled.
I mean, really, is there anything more beautiful than a glossy black Crow with a Birdz Cookie? Yeah, maybe one who has figured out how to grab a piece of cookie and a peanut at the same time.
When it was time to cross Lake Shore Drive and continue north along the lake, the Crows followed me, of course.
Down to the last Snow Crow…
Unlike my previous visit at the beginning of January, however, the Crows did not follow me along the lakefront. Then one singular Crow apart from the group of four appeared. Peanuts were an acceptable offering.
This Crow did not seem so comfortable with me. Checking me out, so to speak. So I kept my distance and did not risk offering cookies that were likely unfamiliar to him or her.
That was it with the Crows. I speculated later that perhaps the longer days and sunshine were already distracting the Crows with thoughts of spring and many of them were elsewhere. So I turned my eyes to the birds on the water. They were far off and there was still plenty of ice. Most of the ducks were Greater Scaup. And there were the expected Canada Geese, Mallards and Herring and Ring-billed Gulls.
Ice in the harbor that caught my eye.
The gulls reminded me of the Gull Frolic two weeks earlier. That’s a whole other blog post – to come.
I managed to blow up a few individual duck photos.
The Mallard below was quite close.
Greater Scaup on the lake.
In all, it was gratifying to see Crows again on a beautiful day. But I had the problem of some leftover Birdz Cookies and there were yet more at home. I thought I would be trying to give them away, but after a few missed opportunities, I decided to simply eat them myself. I have managed, by devouring two a day, to enjoy them and not gain any appreciable weight in the process. But I likely won’t be making another batch once the weather warms up.
We had one very warm and later quite windy day yesterday. I met my dear friend Hannah for a walk at Columbus Park where we spent most of the time beginning to catch up on each other’s lives. It was still chilly enough for the water to be frozen. There also seemed to be a runners’ race of some sort going on. The songs of scores of Red-Winged Blackbirds filled the air.
When I got home I saw one male House Finch showing off the buds on the flowering crab.
I keep resisting temptation to revisit photos from last year before I archive them into perpetuity on an external hard drive, but even after missing a few morning walks this week or next, the immediacy of spring will tempt me back into the present. So either way, I will be back. We’ll see what happens next.
I had been envisioning all week what it would be like, yesterday, to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m. and go through my normal routine of waking up my body, preparing and serving breakfast to my indoor flock, filling the feeders and changing water in the bird baths for the outdoor flock, and then getting ready to leave in time to arrive at Columbus Park and lead a walk that was to start at 7:00 a.m. I don’t organize the walks. I have been asked to “lead” this and other Saturday walks that alternatively go to Thatcher Woods in River Forest through the first Saturday in November. Leading basically means showing up, in case the organizer can’t make it. That will be the end of the “fall migration walks” and the same schedule will restart in April for spring migration.
I made several discoveries yesterday. Perhaps most important was the conclusion that I managed to arrive on time after the organizer had already advised me he couldn’t make it, I had a few moments to spare, which means I might be able to sleep maybe 20 more minutes before Saturday morning’s visit to Thatcher Woods.
So I arrived on time. And started talking to one of the golfers who use the same parking lot for access to the adjacent golf course. And I waited. I watched for cars with people getting out of them bearing binoculars. But all the cars arriving produced golf clubs. I soon came to the conclusion that I was the only person showing up for the walk. Below is a picture of what the sky looked like at that time. Maybe with the combination of clouds and no organizer, I was not enough of a draw.
I figured I may as well check out the park for birds anyway, all dressed up with my gear as I was, so I started walking across the lawn to the water where there were only a few Mallards. It was still quite cloudy and beyond my desire to compensate for the lack of light.
I confess I was a little leery of walking through the park so early alone. Although it has always been a safe place with others, I was not familiar enough with the spot to feel entirely confident. But then it started to lighten up, and I was hearing birds, and I figured well, I could see what was there. And I’m glad I did, because instead of following a group around – some “leader” I am – I now feel like I actually could lead a walk through Columbus Park.
Below is a video I took with my phone of Chimney Swifts flying over – it starts out mainly hearing them but then when I realized I could zoom in a bit you can actually see them. There’s also a Red-winged Blackbird singing in the beginning, for good measure.
It began to brighten up a little, which helped the photo taking situation. It was difficult capturing the Blackpoll Warbler below in the shady portion of the park, however, but I kept trying.
I agonized over the pictures below as I was sure it was a Bay-breasted Warbler but for some reason ebird insisted it was a rare sighting for this date. I submitted my photographs and so far they have not challenged me.
I wasn’t seeing a lot of birds in the water, so I looked forward to going to the native plant garden next to a portion of it where I would likely see more birds, and I did.
Palm Warblers like the one below were expected.
I haven’t seen a lot of Tennessee Warblers this year – so it was nice to find this one.
And below, a very young-looking American Goldfinch.
On the way out I managed to capture a sneaky picture of a Wood Duck drake through some tangled branches. Also saw the resident Great Blue Heron in a well-camouflaged spot.
At 8:30 a.m. I felt as if I had covered the area – even though I missed a raptor I barely saw flying over. I encountered a birder who was waiting on someone to start her walk through, and we exchanged notes. Columbus Park is her go-to spot, like the Portage is mine. She may join us at Thatcher next week. I am no longer dreading these early Saturday morning rises.
I was tired, especially after having gone swimming the night before, so I took a long nap when I got home. But I am glad I managed the early start and stayed for the birds. I’m sure I would have seen more birds if I had company, but I encountered some nice, smiling runners and walkers and felt more connected to Columbus Park, which is really a beautiful place.
I’ve been trying to get back to this page for a long time, but between busy weekends and even more hectic workdays, it’s been difficult to even imagine a blog post. Good intentions being what they may, I am resurfacing briefly here with some pictures from last Saturday morning in Columbus Park – before it rained on that day.
No less surprising, I suppose, is the fact that I cancelled my walk that was supposed to take place at Thatcher Woods this morning because it was thunderstorming off and on all night and with Thatcher Woods being in a flood plain, even though the rain has stopped, it would still be too challenging to slosh around in the soggy grass looking for bedraggled, wet migrants. Indeed the entire weekend promises to be raining or cloudy. Maybe I can get caught up with some overdue blogging, as it is definitely an indoor pursuit.
Fall warblers look a lot less flashy in general than they do in the spring, and it can be a bit challenging to determine who’s who. Luckily I got a lot of observation time with Blackpolls a few years ago when I used to go to Lake Shore East Park so they’re kind of stamped on my brain.
Below is a little video I took with my phone on Tuesday morning, which was beautiful and sunny. I had just stepped out the front door to walk to the train when I heard, and then saw, about six Tennessee Warblers foraging in my front yard which is small but full of native vegetation. They’re not easy to see – watch for movement and then you will see the birds her and there eventually, albeit they are very small! I put this up on Facebook Tuesday but wanted to share again for those who didn’t see it there. I feel like this is a testament to my native plant experiment that seem to get better every year. It’s almost as if the warblers got out their GPS and found “Certified Wildlife Habitat”. 🙂
I had planned to write a post before my departure for Big Bend but it didn’t happen. Now I am back from an amazing trip, but even though I have started processing my pictures, it will probably take me a couple of weeks given the busy schedule I am returning to, so I will see if I can manage this post for the moment.
I did a Columbus Park walk on the Saturday before I left, and it was to witness the first hint of migrating birds, but our spring has been anything but spring-like, with snow occurring the next day and from what I hear, another wet, fluffy snowfall the Saturday before my return. Yet I’m planning on putting out the hummingbird feeders tomorrow morning. C’mon, it’s May!
The big wading and diving birds were easiest to spot… It was particularly entertaining to watch the Double-Crested Cormorants drying off in the sun. Maybe the Canada Goose thought I was trying to take its picture.
We had several Wood Ducks, but this was perhaps the closest view I got of a male swimming in front of a female Mallard.
A little army of hungry Golden-Crowned Kinglets appeared on the grass in front of us at one point, reminding me of the very first time I ever saw them years ago doing the same thing on the lawn at Millennium Park.
The female Belted Kingfisher below was pretty far away but nice to see.
This Black-crowned Night-Heron flew by us before landing in a tree.
Swamp Sparrows outnumbered Song Sparrows (4 to 2!) but were hard to photograph.
Eastern Phoebe arrivals are always a sign of spring. The similarly-colored bird below the Eastern Phoebe is a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow.
You know the Red-Winged Blackbirds are ready for business when the girls start arriving.
Northern Flickers put on a show for us but they were hard to capture as well.
Our last “lawn” species was Killdeer.
I got caught up on my sleep last night, but I’m heading into a busy weekend. Saturday morning is the Spring Bird Count, Saturday night is the Spring Music Festival…and with any luck on Sunday, I can start cleaning up my yard, as green things, both wanted and invasive, are starting to emerge. The recommendation to not clear anything until the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit will be difficult to adhere to… we are still dropping into the 40’s, albeit the higher 40’s, overnight. I do remember seeing a butterfly or two before I left. I hope to see some insects Sunday and maybe a better forecast.
After weather and whatever have kept me inside the past couple weeks, I am looking forward to birding both mornings this weekend and then next Saturday “officially” for the Christmas Bird Count. Then I know what will likely happen: the immediate will foreshadow the past, and I’ll still never get around to what are soon to become “last year’s photographs.” So with this post I hope to catch up with a couple dangling picture portfolios… Starting with the last fall migration bird walk in Columbus Park on October 20th.
The most unusual birds we barely saw were the Rusty Blackbirds above (two out of five of them). It was too hard to tell exactly what they were until I developed my photographs. We were otherwise seeing the usual suspects …lik Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Fox Sparrows.
I did not expect to see a robin sharing space with a Red-Tailed Hawk.
Just barely caught this adult White-Crowned Sparrow and saw a juvenile later.
Two more of the Red-Tailed Hawk.
As I’m hard-pressed for anything colorful around here lately, I’m sharing a few photos from the Missouri Botanical Garden, visited last month when the choir went to St. Louis. Not many birds made themselves available that afternoon but the garden is lovely.
Thanks to all readers, followers and commenters for checking out my blog and tolerating my state of flux. Gotta go now, but winter’s just getting started!
In my haste to publish my last post, as I never know when the opportunity to put one together will present itself…I forgot to process other photographs from that day, so here they are.
Northern Flicker, a/k/a “Yellow-Shafted,” showing off those yellow shafts and matching the color of the leaves left on the tree
Not all that easy to see, but the camera found the Black-Throated Green Warbler below…
And very early on we had a solitary back-lit Downy Woodpecker trying to preen in the wind…Then here are a couple more birds from 311 South Wacker … a Hermit Thrush, finally! They inevitably seem to engage with me, as if to say, “May I help you find something?”
And a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet…
I think this is the last time I saw a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker downtown. They seem to have come and gone really fast.
Now that I’m finished with last week (!), yesterday turned out to be a great morning at Thatcher Woods and then the Chicago Portage. I will try to report back soon, but the rest of today is already over-scheduled!
Columbus Day has come and gone for another year. Even after suggestions that we rename it Native American Annihilation Day, it would be cumbersome to re-label everything presently Columbus. Columbus Park has been around for a long time. According to the Chicago Park District, it is considered the finest example of landscape architect Jens Jensen’s output and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003.
I’ve been too busy looking for birds to photograph the landscaping but I’ll try to keep it in mind since I have one more planned visit next Saturday. After that I will be free to go anywhere or not. The morning started out cloudy and wet but improved. We park in the golfers parking lot, where there were many intrepid golfers by the time I arrived. Early on, the birds were not easy to spot last Saturday. They were either too far away to see clearly and/or tangled in dense multicolored foliage. Above is a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. Below is a photograph that may or may not have a bird in it, to give you an example…
And then when I did eventually find a bird and tried to enlarge the photograph enough for identification purposes…
This is a Bay-Breasted Warbler. Even after ebird insists nobody can tell a Bay-Breasted from a Blackpoll this time of year, the configuration of the wing bars, the faint rosy wash on the flank and the facial pattern all tell me it’s a Bay-Breasted.
This is a Pine Warbler that we actually glimpsed better naked eye than with the camera.
For one thing I have been able to exercise my desire to see a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker the last week or so. Below is one from Columbus Park…
and a couple days earlier, from the park at 311 South Wacker, a block away from my office. Notice all the sap-holes in the bark!
Even though Red-Winged Blackbirds don’t migrate far, I think we’ve seen the last of them in these parts until they return to nest in the spring.
Another off-site but maybe not off-topic bird is the Ovenbird below. One or two of these have been hanging out at 311 South Wacker. I think I had eight of them at one time in the spring.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a Nashville Warbler…
And the large pond that attracts so much waterfowl…
Then I was intrigued by the fungus that had adopted a tree stump.
We saw the Great Blue Heron early on and then later when it was trying to negotiate a slippery fish.
Our last bird was perhaps the nicest surprise. A Cooper’s Hawk perched directly overhead.
I am going to Thatcher Woods tomorrow morning for the last walk there, and I have absolutely no idea what to expect. We are currently experiencing cold, cloudy weather. The forecast for tomorrow is sunny and moderately cool. I plan to get in as much birding as possible before I tend to my weekend chores because Sunday is going to be challenging. The choir sings in the morning, and in the afternoon I’m attending a “Soul Connections” group I joined several months ago, then directly after that, my first attendance at a writer’s workshop, led by one of the SC group’s participants – an activity I haven’t attempted in many, many years. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that we have to connect with each other on multiple levels if we’re going to get through this. 🙂
The days are getting shorter, there are still fall migrants coming through, the weather has been beautiful the last day or two and I feel like I’m running around in circles just trying to get normal things accomplished, and then I’m out of time for everything. Everything being the moment to sit still, observe, reflect, be…