Two Visits to Riverside

My mother always used to call March the Adolescent Month. She must have been referring to the weather. It’s as if it is on the cusp of indecision – stay in winter or grow up into spring.

I went to Riverside on March 2 which was on the beginning of a brief warm front, and then back again on March 9. On the first visit it wasn’t particularly warm in the morning, but the winds were blowing from the south. I saw the Eastern Bluebird briefly.

There’s nearly always a Black-capped Chickadee somewhere. This one was close enough to photograph.

The sky wasn’t too encouraging.

This Blue Jay tolerated me long enough to focus on those few parts of him that weren’t obscured.

The Des Plaines River is flowing again.

Waterfowl are here and there now, the large groups of Canada Geese and Mallards have dispersed. Below is a female Common Merganser.

With the strong shift in winds from the south, Sandhill Cranes were taking advantage of a free ride. I saw the larger flock when I came back to my car in the health club parking lot after swimming the same day.

When I went back on March 9, the skies were clearer but the temperature was colder.

This Red-bellied Woodpecker was showing off against the blue sky background.

I took note of a River Birch tree. There are several on the Riverside side by the paved trail. The bark fascinates me. They are logical trees for a flood plain.

The foot bridge was clear and clean-looking that day.

Here’s another Red-bellied Woodpecker on the Riverside Lawn side of the river.

My biggest treat this past Wednesday was the Song Sparrow singing, below. It took me a little while to locate him but he was facing me, singing away, when I did. After taking his picture and recording his song, he starting singing a different song, which I also recorded. You can hear both songs below the photographs. I have never witnessed this before. I know Song Sparrows have a reputation for singing a lot of songs but I don’t believe I have never heard the same bird sing two distinct songs. It’s as if he knew he had a good audience. It also reminds me of the Shanahan New Yorker cartoon below, which is my favorite cartoon as it seems to sum up my life.

Song Sparrow – First Song
Song Sparrow – Second Song

Mr. and Ms. Mallard were elegant on the water.

The clear blue sky provided a perfect backdrop for an adult Bald Eagle as well.

When I got back to my parking spot I was greeted by a Canada Goose standing on one foot.

But before I could get into my car, two Red-tailed Hawks started flying over, showing off. I didn’t manage to get them both in the same frame but a small sampling of the many photographs I took is below.

The last and most distant capture was of this hawk’s back against the sun.

Spring continues to push forward. We had some snow last night but it was a minimal accumulation. Even though it’s quite cold, the sun has by now removed all the snow from the sidewalks. As much as I am tempted to wonder what is the meaning of life these days, it seems to make as much sense, if not more, to just take note of as much of it as I can.

Riverside in Real Time

Who needs sunshine? I went for a walk this morning in Riverside. Of course the sun came out after I got back home, but it was considerably warmer than it has been, not too windy, not raining, not snowing…if anything, melting ice was the only weather effect I had to deal with.

My first bird was actually in Lyons by the Hofmann Tower, a Northern Cardinal singing his heart out. There’s a recording of his song below the photo.

Here’s how the river looked from the Lyons spot. No ice left.

Over on the other side of the bridge there were three Common Mergansers. I tried to get a halfway decent shot of the hen sitting on a rock before they started swimming downstream.

I finished crossing the Joliet Avenue bridge and got over to the paved path which was primarily clear, save a few deceptive patches of black ice to watch out for. There I encountered a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos but could not photograph any of them. However, the male Eastern Bluebird at the top of the post and below. I have seen him here before. He came and sat for me, proclaiming his territory. I look forward to seeing a lot more of him in the warmer months.

Looking across the river I focused on two tree stumps that looked like raptors sitting – but weren’t.

Of course there were Mallards but without much light it was hard to find a reason to photograph them, except for the beautiful feather patterns on the backs of these birds.

On my way to the foot bridge I noticed the gargoyle atop the library entrance.

I took the obligatory photographs of the foot bridge.

There were no birds to photograph over on the Riverside Lawn side of the river, but there was a lot of melting ice. I proceeded slowly.

So other than a couple more standard views, the river and the tower, I am done for the moment but I wanted to honor the appearance of the Eastern Bluebird and the song of the Northern Cardinal as the promise of spring continues.

It was good to get out for a walk and, weather permitting, I intend to continue doing so…while attending to the backlog.

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.

In Between

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

My last trip to the lakefront was at the end of November. I intended to post some pictures from that visit closer to the time they were taken but the holidays and impending travel plans got the better of me. So in between the Mexico trip posts here’s a little nostalgia from home.

Above and below, a very cold-looking Golden-Crowned Kinglet I encountered in the plantings outside the Columbia Yacht Club. I confess to seeing his fiery crown first before I eventually saw the entire bird.

I miss the lakefront for these little guys, the Horned Grebes, that tend to hang out conveniently near the shore. There were also a few closer ducks that day, in between dives.

Horned Grebe

The Crow Crowd I expected was not present, but I did find a small but enthusiastic group at my last stop, Lake Shore East Park.

I don’t remember exactly where this very young Cooper’s Hawk was.

Predictably, a Herring Gull and a White-Throated Sparrow…

Herring Gull
White-Throated Sparrow

I’ve been trying to keep up with the Mexico pictures and hope to manage another post in a couple days. If for no other reason than to take a break from the cold, gloomy weather and news cycle, if you can even call it that.

Waking Up Was Harder This Morning

Spring so desperately wants to happen. Or so I wrote when I was starting to put together this post four days ago. But then we had to spring the clocks forward, as if shifting more light to the end of the day would hurry up spring faster. However, we have been held back by what seems like the longest winter ever, and that one-more-day philosophy takes over. I may be too tired to know what I’m writing here, but I think the bright sunshine and the angle of its light now helps to wake me up, wakes the birds up, and the trees are probably musing among themselves, the time is coming.

I’ve managed to walk along the river a few times in the last couple of weeks, whether on my way in to work or those rare times when I manage to take a break and go for a walk. The weather has made it more difficult. I got out today for half an hour or so. The wind made it quite chilly, but wherever I could find a patch of sun, there was hope, if not many birds.

In any event, below are some pictures I took of Red-Breasted Mergansers last week. They’ve been hanging out in the river lately, like they did last year. One evening before I got on the train, I counted over 100 within my view outside the station. The pictures below are from one morning last week when there were four males trying to attract one female. She got into the act at one point chasing off one of her suitors. Click on the images for a better view.

Here’s the guy she decided upon. I love her mascara.
Here is a Common Merganser for comparison.

Herring Gulls have been following the mergansers hoping to snatch the ducks’ catch.

I was really surprised on an earlier walk to see a River Crow! A Herring Gull was surprised to see him too and tried to knock the Crow off his perch, but of course, the Crow was triumphant.

On my way back to the office, I looked back to see the Crow cawing about his victory.

I’m hoping for a Return of the River Crow. I miss hanging out with the Lakefront Crows terribly, and it would be just so neat to have a River Crow following. So now every time I go out, I carry peanuts, just in case.

The moon was beautiful a couple weeks ago, so I took a few pictures after I went swimming (there are always better moon views in the gym parking lot). It was exactly a month after the night of the blood moon when my former Prius C was totaled. The shock has almost completely worn off, and I’m very happy with the new car. It’s easier to give people rides, so there are more conversations. And I am about to find out how much easier it will be to fill up the hatch with birdseed. What more could I want?

Crow Holiday Post

Two weekends ago now it is, I went to down to the lakefront to find Crows and whoever else might be hanging out. I was fortunate to be greeted by a group of five crows by Buckingham Fountain who remembered me from the last visit and indicated that by gathering around the same spot I fed them last time. I chose a better spot this time, I think, without a fence around it.

They didn’t seem too enthusiastic to see the cookies, but I suspect that’s because they’re youngsters and haven’t been exposed to them yet. I may run the experiment again next weekend and see if their reaction to the cookies is any different, because I’m sure after they were done caching and stashing all the peanuts they came back to check out whatever was left of the cookies. I say that because there were squirrels starting to show up.

There was a Cooper’s Hawk that flew into some trees which I tried to get a better shot of than the one below…

But since that didn’t happen, I walked down along the lakefront to see waterfowl. Most of the ducks were too far away to photograph, and they seemed to consist mainly of both Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers, a few Common Goldeneye and a couple Coots.

Inevitably there were a lot of Canada Geese. They flew into the lake from Butler Field at one point. As long as there is open water I have a feeling they won’t be going anywhere else anytime soon.

I came back inland and walked through Millennium Park seeing nothing of interest. But as I neared Randolph on the north end of the park, I saw some crows across the street so I followed them behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building where we have never met before. It seems like too staid a situation for peanuts but I picked a safe-looking corner, knowing the Crows would soon remove all the peanuts and no one would notice.

Thinking these are likely the same Crows that hung around Lake Shore East Park, I decided to see if they remembered the wall running along the Radisson parking lot that protects people and cars from falling into the empty lot below. The Crows picked up on the location immediately.

Apologies if this becomes a strange-looking post: I’ve been having issues with this new editor. Half the time I can’t see what I’m doing. It’s great!

Nothing makes my heart soar like the sight of a Crow in flight so I’m glad my friends obliged me that day.

Onward to the busy holiday weekend. I have Christmas Eve off of work this year thanks to the calendar, so the prospect of 4 days off in a row has given me a heady, almost drunk feeling of security that I can accomplish even half the things on my list. I am singing in a near-midnight candlelit service on Monday… I will try to report back soon. Until then, best wishes to all for a warm and loving holiday season.

Gull Frolic 2017 – More Frolic than Gulls

find-the-thayers-challenge-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8476Quipped attempts to describe Illinois Ornithological Society‘s Saturday’s 16th Annual Gull Frolic were “Duck Frolic” and perhaps “Herring Gull Frolic.” To paraphrase the observation of Amar Ayyash, our local gull expert extraordinaire who organizes the event, when the weather is good for people, it’s bad for gulls. In other words, there wasn’t enough ice on the lake to draw the gulls in to the shore. We can be fairly positive the rarities were somewhere out in the middle of Lake Michigan, if not totally on the other side of it.

Even with only a few species present, I have to review and refresh my sparse knowledge of gulls again because often this is my only chance to see anything other than a Herring or a Ring-Billed.

So disinterested were the birds in us, at one point there was more bread floating around in the water than gulls.

The first bird I photographed was a male Common Goldeneye, below.

goldeneye-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8084And as for other ducks, there were a few here and there, although none too close.

greater-scaup-female-and-redhead-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8095

Female Greater Scaup and Redhead

bufflehead-and-goldeneye-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8175

Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye

Above, a female Bufflehead on the left and more Bufflehead and a Greater Scaup on the right. Below, Mallard and Bufflehead flying.

The Common Mergansers were perhaps the most numerous. Two shots of a close female below and more flying.

Other waterfowl present but not photographed were American Coots, a few Long-Tailed Ducks I did not see, and a very distant group of White-Winged Scoters.

Gulls were quick to seize the opportunity to stand on whatever little ice there was. Among the Herring Gulls below there is one Thayer’s, if you like a challenge.

hegu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8684Of the two Thayer’s Gulls spotted, I was fortunate to get a shot of the one below when it finally decided soggy bread was worth bothering with. There was a flyover Great Black-Backed Gull I did not see because I was inside attending one of two lectures given by Jean Rice regarding her study of shorebirds in St. James Bay. At some point a Kumlien’s Gull appeared, but I was not seeing it. Maybe the camera saw the Kumlien’s but if I’m not aware of it, I prefer not to go back over all my pictures to find one. Perhaps an expert can spot this gull in the grouping at the very top of my post, but I suspect there is not enough information in a static shot.

thgu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8653

Below is one of only a few Ring-Billed Gulls.

rbgu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8396

So I decided to survey the gulls present and make it an exercise in photographing different Herring Gull plumages. The darker they are, the younger.

first-year-herring-gull-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8158

First Year Herring Gull

hegu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8634

Adult Herring Gulls

I was happy to see this shot of a female and male Common Merganser in my pictures.

common-mergs-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8462

We appear to be continuing with warmer weather, which is neither here nor there as far as birds are concerned, but the wintering avians are starting to think and sound a lot like spring. And no matter how bad things seem to get, spring will always feel like renewal.

Fog Settles In

noca-home-1-22-17-6393

Northern Cardinal outside my house this morning

Inertia beckons. The fog was thick on Thursday when I visited Millennium Park, but it was even thicker this morning when Lesa and I decided to try birding the Palos area.

dowp-mcginnis-1-22-17-6398

Downy Woodpecker, McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough was fairly quiet except for Canada Geese that kept flying over. We did see the outline of perhaps 500 or so in the water except we could barely make out their shapes in the fog. There were American Tree Sparrows on the ground not far from the parking lot.

We did manage to see several Common Mergansers at the south end of the preserve. The shot of the geese flying overhead gives you an idea of how foggy it was.

We drove over to the Little Red Schoolhouse to see birds at the feeders, if nothing else, and true to Lesa’s prediction, there were two Tufted Titmice.

We also had our only White-Throated Sparrow at the Schoolhouse. There’s an American Tree Sparrow behind it.

wtsp-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6504Perhaps the brightest feature at the Schoolhouse was the fungus growing below.

fungus-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6520Here are a few pictures from Thursday, downtown at Millennium Park. There are perhaps 20 or 30 White-Throated Sparrows distributed in several areas. Below are two that came for the birdseed I had brought with me.

American Robins are starting to show up here and there. They never really go completely away but they associate loosely in flocks in the winter.

European Starlings are returning too. They used to overwinter but the last few years I have noticed their absence, so they must be migrating a bit for a while.

eust-millennium-1-19-17-6359Those tough year-round city natives, Rock Pigeons, are always somewhere in the Loop. Below, two pied pigeons.

Individually they’re really unique. But I have to be careful not to pay too much attention to them or they’ll think I’m going to feed them.

pied-pigeons-millennium-1-19-17-6380This Robin was interesting too. How much color can I get out of any bird in this light?

amro-millennium-1-19-17-6341The forecast is for cooler temperatures, rain turning to snow, winter isn’t over yet. But this week I heard some bird song from a Black-Capped Chickadee, an American Robin and a Northern Cardinal. That gives me hope.

Down by the River

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

It’s been a busy week, so I haven’t gotten out too much and, in spite of that, it’s taken me days to carve out a post.

Two American Coots on 1-29-15: this was the view without binoculars

Two American Coots on 1-29-15: this was the view without binoculars

Freer souls have been out in the cold finding the rarities, some of which have been seen on the Chicago River. As a matter of course, since last winter’s freeze of the Great Lakes, I make a habit of peering into the Chicago River every morning when I get off the train and look into that section of the River to see if there’s any bird life in it. Seeing as how last year at this time I was counting White-Winged Scoters…that species and even less likely birds have been showing up in other sections of the river, but downtown there isn’t much going on.

AMCO Chi River 2-10-15-2213

Confirmed Coots on 2-10-15 when they were a little bit closer

AMCO Chi River 2-10-15-2236

The Coots are long gone and nothing else has taken their place outside the train station. Ah, the frustrations of sitting inside an office all day…

So late in the cloudy, snowy afternoons of Tuesday and Wednesday this past week I walked north to where the river joins Lake Michigan to see if there were any waterfowl at all. I was delighted to see Red-Breasted Mergansers as I am accustomed to seeing them on the lakefront but had not yet seen any this year.

Red-Breasted Mergansers

Red-Breasted Mergansers

The lake is frozen close to shore, and ice flows into the river where it joins the lake.

Ice from the Lake2-25-15-5222

Tuesday it was snowing, Wednesday just cloudy. Tuesday there were also a couple Mallards and one pair of Common Mergansers, along with a dozen or so Red-Breasted Mergansers and primarily Herring Gulls.