The River’s Slow Thaw

One result of the cold snap – frozen water – resulted in diving ducks looking for open water deep enough to, well, dive in. Although much of the Des Plaines River remains frozen around Riverside, there is open water closer to the Joliet Avenue bridge on either side. On Wednesday morning, I saw some Common Goldeneye, and yesterday morning there were several Common Mergansers. To be expected, there are a lot of Mallards up and down the river, and I saw a few of them diving too, although they don’t stay submerged very long.

The Des Plaines River looking west from the Hofmann Tower in Lyons

Below are some groups of Mallards on the ice.

It looks like there were Canada Geese here before the Mallards.

As I started to walk along the paved trail, I saw these two male Common Goldeneyes.

And then a female.

And below is a first-year male Common Goldeneye.

The rest of the river from any close vantage point was still pretty much covered in ice and snow.

The snow on the fallen logs across the worn foot-trail in Riverside Lawn adds a layer of interest.

But I really didn’t see any passerines until I got back to where my car was parked in Lyons by the Hofmann Tower.

Dark-eyed Junco – a true snow bird

Close to the wrought-iron fence by the Hofmann Tower, where the landscape descends toward the river, I spotted a Song Sparrow. And then under the feeders, another Song Sparrow and a Junco, and then an American Tree Sparrow and the Song Sparrow.

Yesterday, the view looking west from the Hofmann Tower was a bit gloomier.

There was more open water, but much of the river is still ice.

This time close to the Joliet Avenue bridge were some Common Mergansers. Below is a first-year male.

Look closely inside this bird’s open mouth and you will see a fish it has caught.

Below is an adult male Common Merganser.

The next surprise was a first-year male Hooded Merganser – farther away, and determined not to be photographed, but I kept trying in between dives and managed the images below.

I don’t know when, if ever, I have noticed first-year male ducks, so this was an educational extra benefit from winter birding. You may see fewer birds, but notice them more.

Sometimes I just have to settle for the beauty of a big, slow-moving Canada Goose.

I noticed a Mallard hen trying to eat something that seemed to keep sliding onto the ice, but I had no idea what it was until I developed the pictures. It looks like a small crayfish or maybe a piece of one.

More pictures of yesterday’s ice.

The sun keeps trying to emerge from behind what seems like eternal cloud cover.

Land birds again, few and far between. There was a Hairy Woodpecker not far from the foot bridge.

And upon returning to where my car was parked in Lyons, there were a few cold-looking American Goldfinches.

One more of the four Common Goldeneye from Wednesday.

I will be back next year (!) with more winter birding and likely even more from before. It’s hard to get my head around the fact that this is the last day of 2022, but it is, so Happy New Year to all, thanks so much for checking in, and let’s all take a deep breath for the New Year.

Riverside Winter Comparison

Here’s a set of photographs I have been meaning to share since they were taken way back when, December 22, 2021, to be exact, in Riverside. I figured I could contrast what this part of the world looked like before the snow and icy cold overtook everything.

The Brown Creeper at the top of the post was on a Hackberry tree right by the Riverside entrance to the foot bridge. It was foraging about waist-level.

December 22, 2021
February 1, 2022
The Water Tower
Foot bridge

There were a lot of Canada Geese that day, including the one above with its neck tag. When I was last there, only a few Canada Geese were down on the ice.

I never turn down a chance to photograph a Downy Woodpecker, although it was a lot easier back in December.

The Dark-eyed Junco below was over by the Riverside side of the Joliet Avenue bridge.

It’s been really hard to capture Black-capped Chickadees lately, so I’m glad I managed on December 22nd to photograph this one.

Mallards below are from February 1. The sole female Common Goldeneye was still with some of them.

The unidentified fungus below was from the December outing.

Also in December, across the river, I managed to pick out this Blue Jay having a drink of water solely by his blue color.

Here’s how the sky looked on February 1.

Another before and after comparison of the river.

I took notice of the hole in this stump on February 1, sheerly for its size and somewhat square shape, which made me wonder if I will ever see a Pileated Woodpecker at this location. I thought I heard one that day.

I keep thinking this downed tree by the trail looks like a hedge.

So, a last look at the snow and ice for now. It is not going anywhere for awhile. There likely will always be some Mallards and a few Canada Geese in the open water. I have yet to see a Bald Eagle here or at the Portage.

This morning I found myself going through some photographs from the end of September in Riverside, taken around the Indian Gardens location before I had discovered this location I have been to all winter. I am sure I will be birding both areas in the spring. In the meantime, I will be back with those photos from September 29, 2021, to brighten things up a bit and as something to look forward to.

Down by the River

I did go out for walk yesterday after all – not leaving until we were at least 1 degree above zero. The sun was shining brightly and it wasn’t windy, so as long as I kept moving it wasn’t too bad.

Except for a few ducks and geese, I hardly saw any birds. Heard a few.

There were a few Common Goldeneye in the open water. A Mallard drake was hanging out with a female Goldeneye. I saw him actually dive a couple times, like he was trying to be a diving duck for her.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of him completely submerged – not that it would have been possible to see him anyway. But earlier I did catch a Canada Goose and a couple Mallards dabbling in their usual fashion.

Below is a Mallard during and after taking a bath.

Without many birds to photograph, there was plenty of ice and snow.

And the trail, such as it was…

Here are a few more views of the Des Plaines River and environs at this Riverside location. I was using the little mirrorless camera and because of the cold half the time I could barely see what I was shooting.

My last photograph from yesterday is of a Mallard and a Canada Goose asleep on the ice. That about sums up the morning cold.

We were pleasantly warmer in the 20’s today, but the day started off cloudy and I had grocery shopping to do, so I didn’t go for a walk. Tonight we have a winter storm watch which probably means I will be shoveling snow tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll get out over the weekend. Except we will be back in the single digits again… Sometimes I wonder if it’s good or bad to know what’s coming next.

I was going to combine these photos with some from December but decided this is enough by itself. I’ll be back with the rest. In the meantime, the indoor birds and I have settled into a sort of routine where I play piano in the late afternoon before serving their evening snack. We’re slowly making our way through Bach’s sixth English Suite in D minor, among other things. I almost have the Prelude nailed, which means memorized… it feels like it takes several minutes to play, I have no idea, I haven’t timed it. But I am so aware as I’m playing of what’s coming next while simultaneously concentrating on what I am playing in the moment – it’s mind-boggling. I will be glad when my muscle memory completely takes over. I love playing Bach, I find his music so organic – but he really outdid himself with this suite.

The First Thaw

I was almost going to revert back to sunnier and greener times – and I probably will in the next post – but it occurred to me that in the middle of summer, no matter how unbearably hot it gets, I won’t be going back to any cold, grey, icy scenes as something to look forward to, so I may as well organize a more recent outing here.

I went out yesterday morning to Riverside, where I hadn’t been since the end of December. The forecast was cloudy but warmer – and anything warmer than the 5 to 10-below wind chills sounded possible to me. Still I decided to carry the little mirrorless camera so my agility negotiating icy spots would not be compromised. I was sure there would be plenty of ice but at least there are no hills to navigate on the Riverside trail, unlike the Portage. Below is what the river looked like going over the Joliet Avenue bridge.

There was open water here, which was not always the case farther down the river. As I walked across the bridge I thought of the Yellow-rumped Warbler I saw close to the bridge back on December 22nd.

I started down the paved path, and I began to see some ducks in the water – but I was hearing an insistent little ticking call behind me. I turned around, and the Yellow-rumped Warbler was up in a tree telling me it was still here. I am glad I managed to get a photograph of it.

I don’t know exactly what it is, it’s probably a combination of things, but I think a point of mutual exchange occurs with birds sometimes that is plainly a result of my paying attention. This was not a “coincidence” but rather, the Yellow-rumped Warbler was responding to my thought about it. I remember a dear former boyfriend who was an electrical engineer, who used to say “thoughts are things.” Indeed they are.

I am also reminded of some lyrics from one of my favorite Peter Mayer songs, “World of Dreams”:

“In the smallest measure of anything at hand
Entities of energy are alive in a whirling dance
Even our own bodies are not as we perceive
But made of the same stuff our thoughts are made
In this world of dreams
So do we live and move amidst illusions?
Has what we’re seeing fooled us
And only exists in our minds?
And what are we to do with such conclusions?
For what cannot come true in a world of a
Mystical kind?”

Anyway, this encounter with the Yellow-rumped Warbler was special. It was encouraging to know it had survived the awful cold. I was beginning to wonder how much more cold I could take. Yesterday was the first day I managed without long underwear.

There were perhaps 50 Mallards total – where two weeks before there had been a couple hundred Canada Geese. There were no geese in the water yesterday. But there were diving ducks, which I had never seen at this point in the river before. Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneye.

It was gloomy all morning. The sun kept trying to get through the clouds but it didn’t happen.

Here’s how the river looked closer to the foot bridge.

And the foot bridge itself.

The closer I got to the ice, the more serious it looked.

But at least the foot bridge had a railing, and I was able to grasp the suspender cable at the end to go downhill toward the foot trail, which was a lot safer.

Not knowing what kind of pictures I could get of birds with that camera under these conditions, I just tried when I could, and got lucky with the one cardinal at the top of the post – they have been difficult subjects lately – and a few mixed results otherwise. There weren’t a lot of birds out. And yet I managed to report 16 species.

A Downy Woodpecker and a Dark-eyed Junco

And yes, another Brown Creeper. I’m just amazed the little camera did such a good job.

Not much else from yesterday – just snowy ice and predictable gloom. The temperatures rose quite a bit by the afternoon. Today was supposed to be cloudy and I started cursing the sun when it came out because I only had plans to go grocery shopping. But I decided to make more oatmeal cookies before I went out. I’ve been hooked on these lately – I’ve been making them with yogurt instead of milk and they’re not too sweet, just full of oats and raisins.

The last cookie – and the new batch for future consumptions…

May as well go out with the same color as the beginning. I will be back shortly with greens.

Notes from the Thaw

This post started out last weekend when we could finally see the promise of large piles of snow melting. I went to the Portage but didn’t get very far, the trails were not really passable in my estimation. And I was hardly even hearing any birds. So I focused on trying to get a few pictures of the birds in the yard. The American Goldfinches have been enjoying the thistle socks filled with new nyjer. The Downy Woodpecker below was likely tired of trying to drill into frozen suet so he was sampling from the peanut feeder instead.

I finally got to see why there was an unusual accumulation of peanut shells under the squirrel peanut feeder. Because of all the snow and cold, it wasn’t practical to waste energy taking peanuts away from the feeder and maybe stashing them for later, so the squirrels have been hanging upside down eating them as they take them.

So here’s what the Portage looked like last weekend, at least as far as I got.

Creatures using the snow pack as habitat – self-styled igloos. I had some rats doing this in my yard, unfortunately. I don’t mind the field mice but I am sure my neighbors are not fond of rats.

Below is how the Portage looked yesterday. Still some snow, but not so bad. Bright and sunny, and even a few birds, although more heard than seen. I did see maybe 10 Red-winged Blackbirds but they were too far away to photograph. I heard them first. Some Robins were returning as well.

Otherwise uninterrupted blue sky.

A nice-looking European Starling…

I heard this Brown-headed Cowbird singing before I saw him. Not easy to capture high up in this tree but his cap is glistening in the sun.

In the Des Plaines River, pretty far away, were several Common Goldeneye. I am surprised I was able to capture them – I seem to be having issues with macular degeneration in my right eye so it’s getting harder to focus. Time to make an appointment with the ophthalmologist. (Yikes – I thought I was a good speller but I just had to re-learn that word. More h’s than I imagined.) I vaguely remember him suggesting there were remedies if it started getting worse.