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.
I had planned on this post days if not a week ago… This could be my last ancient fall warbler photos post. Even though we will still have some cold weather to deal with, spring and the longer days are gaining attention from the birds. It won’t be long before the trees leaf out and warblers start to arrive. Red-winged Blackbirds have already started setting up territories as of March 1.
So here are a few reminders of what the warblers looked like in the fall. Below and at the top of the post is a Bay-breasted Warbler.
Below is one quick capture I managed of a Northern Parula.
Yellow-rumped Warblers like the ones below will look quite different in the spring.
Male Nashville Warblers have a tiny red spot sometimes visible at the crown. If you click on the first image below you might be able to see a hint of red on this one.
One sought-after warbler that I saw a few times but didn’t manage to photograph until a later visit in October was this male Black-throated Blue Warbler.
There were a lot of Black-throated Green Warblers this past fall.
And many Blackpoll Warblers were available for observation.
I will never tire of Magnolia Warblers although they were ubiquitous this past fall. I really think they like to flirt with the camera lens.
Not a warbler, but there was a very well seen Cooper’s Hawk that day.
Things are getting a bit more interesting as spring approaches and I will be back as soon as I can with more photos and reflections. Life goes on. Sometimes surprisingly so.
Oops, I almost forgot the obligatory American Redstart.
I couldn’t stay inside another day, so I went to the Portage yesterday morning, armed with my walking stick but braving the sunshine without long underwear or my warmest hat. It was still cold, and there was plenty of ice, but the sun was shining so brightly it demanded my attention.
With the exception of the Northern Cardinal at the top of the post, and some Canada Geese flying overhead, there were no birds available for photographs until I was almost done with my walk. Due to the ice cover I decided not to do the inner trail on the opposite side of the pond. I wasn’t hearing any birds so I probably didn’t miss much.
I took a lot of pictures of snow and ice. This will all turn to mud today and fresh snow will cover it tomorrow.
As I headed toward the last part of my walk, I heard the Red-bellied Woodpecker calling, and then a couple Black-capped Chickadees joined him. A pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches also appeared. We had a nice visit. This Red-bellied Woodpecker likes to get his picture taken and I can’t help but oblige.
There was a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches. First I saw the male, and then the female.
The chickadees have not been engaging with the camera lately. I suspect all their food sources are higher up in the trees.
But there was a Grey Squirrel who was curious.
When I got home, the only bird in my yard that I could see was this Mourning Dove.
I kept looking outside and not seeing any birds in the yard. I decided around 1:00 to go out and start cleaning up what I could under the feeders before it turned into a soggy mess. The minute I opened the back door, I saw the Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the redbud, facing me. The explained why there were no birds in the yard.
I have decided it’s too windy to visit Riverside this morning on my way to the health club for my midday Wednesday swim. Although the Winter Storm Watch for tomorrow has been revised to a Winter Weather Advisory, a Wind Advisory has been added for today. There were no goldfinches in the yard this morning and so far only the House Sparrows and a few House Finches have flown in frantically and flown out.
It’s already quite warm and we will be in the fifties by afternoon. It should be raining by the time I leave for choir rehearsal. The rain will turn to snow Thursday morning with snow continuing of and on the entire day. Winter is not done with us yet.
We had to cross the 2021 finish line to get our first significant snow which turned out, thankfully, to be less than predicted. But the storm continued to rage eastward and wreaked havoc elsewhere. Suffice it to say we are cold and there is snow on the ground. And my feeders in the backyard have become very popular.
It’s been a couple weeks since I took the pictures below of the Cooper’s Hawk – through the kitchen window, on the fence – but less than a week later I found a pile of Mourning Dove feathers in the yard – before the snow covered it up.
All these photos are with the little mirrorless camera. I am trying to use it more and it’s handy for the backyard. Most of the pictures were also taken through windows with screens which isn’t ideal but it’s been hard to stand outside and wait for the birds to come back in the yard lately.
The American Goldfinches have been back in numbers. I counted 36 of them this morning. I wasn’t sure how they were going to adjust to the new feeders but they seem to be perfectly happy with them and I find them much easier to deal with than their beloved socks which got dirty and full of holes too many times.
Some of these pictures were from a previous snow on December 28. That snow was wet and sticking although it melted away a day later. It was worth capturing when it was clinging to the trees and remnants of plants in the front yard.
Then on the 29th…when the snow was gone…
I did manage to get outside for a few photographs on January 2nd. A male Downy Woodpecker was the easiest to capture.
.A few goldfinches managed to tolerate my presence.
I don’t see very many House Finches lately, so it was nice to see this one.
A very small representation of the House Sparrows that visit.
I haven’t seen more than one Dark-eyed Junco at a time so I have no idea if there are more in the yard.
Today we have blowing snow and wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour with a wind chill presently of 1 degree above zero. The forecast is for even colder weather the next two days. I did manage to go to the Portage yesterday and will be back with that short visit a bit later.
Sadly our choir rehearsals have been put on hold. We are to have a Zoom meeting next Wednesday. I am not surprised by any of this, but it is difficult to continually digest all the uncertainty. I am grateful for the fall in-person rehearsals and our concerts that occurred just in time before Omicron became our destiny.
I wish you safety and warmth and some joy in the little things.
To celebrate August 31st being my last official day of work, I went to the Portage two mornings in a row, to look for the first signs of fall migration. I didn’t see an awful lot of species on either visit, but there were some nice looks. Best of all was feeling really free to take my time and not worry about checking my work email. I still have to get used to waking up in the dark, though, because I have walks to lead every Saturday in September and October.
Of course the obvious draw this time of year is the fall warblers passing through on their way south from their breeding grounds in the north. I didn’t see a lot of species and missed a couple, but so far I have seen a few warblers each day. They behave differently on their way back to their wintering grounds. They are not foraging in flocks and they are in less of a hurry. So while they may be harder to spot at times, it’s easier to concentrate on one bird at a time. Below are a couple American Redstarts.
I felt lucky to find this Bay Breasted Warbler in my photographs.
One of my favorites, a Chestnut-Sided Warbler, was being rather coy.
Not a warbler, but a nice to see Red-Eyed Vireo both days. The bottom photograph was taken the second day when the Vireo was eating poke berries with the Cedar Waxwings.
Thursday morning I managed to capture enough photographs of the Orange-Crowned Warbler below to justify my claim that I had seen one, since it’s very early for this species.
I just barely captured this Nashville Warbler.
Wednesday was cloudy.
Large flocks of Cedar Waxwings were present on both days.
Some closer views of the Waxwings Thursday, when they were busy eating poke berries.
Below is a beautiful wasp’s nest. I have a slightly smaller one in my crabapple tree this year as well…
Something else that I had a lot of in my yard before I removed nearly all of it, below, is Common Beggar Ticks which is native, and an annual – but doesn’t bloom until now.
On the first day I did manage to capture the Swainson’s Thrush below. I also saw a Wood Thrush but that photograph isn’t presentable.
Robins are looking scruffy this time of year. Most of them are juveniles.
When I first walked in on Thursday, there was a deer at the end of the paved path, and then a Cooper’s Hawk with prey landed in a tree above me, but I didn’t see what it had captured.
Unfortunately this Ruby-Throated Hummingbird was completely backlit in bright sunshine but it was still nice to see it perch right in front of me.
There were still a couple Indigo Buntings around.
For once, there were more than one or two Monarch Butterflies. I realize this is probably the last I will see of them but it was nice while it lasted.
Below is a Chipmunk foraging in a tree.
A few scenes of the Portage and one quick look at the Des Plaines River where not much is happening at the moment.
Black-capped Chickadees are around all year but I don’t always see them. Sometimes I don’t even hear them. This one didn’t mind being seen or heard.
I am trying to navigate this new feeling of almost endlessness. Well, it doesn’t last for long. There is much to do, but less of a feeling of urgency or hopelessness as my work duties have all but vanished. I have agreed to remain with the firm as an independent contractor to help out with various projects while they still try to find and train my replacement. My stipulation was to assume any given morning with nice weather would be off limits for my attention as I will likely be out looking for birds somewhere.
Not always sure where I’m coming from with one-handed typing, but the slowness with which I have had to express myself has given berth to more measured thoughts, perhaps, and, like bird-watching, there is something almost meditative in it.
Before I stray further, I want to dedicate this post to my dear friend Linda Rios and her husband Ed who got me through my awful post-injury and surgery situation with loving aplomb. It occurred to me after I struggled to finish the last post that I was bereft in my focus and needed to at least acknowledge how much my friends have meant to me during this blotch on my existence.
These photos are from August 29th, mostly taken at the Portage. After I was done there I checked out what the Army Corps of Engineers has done to the part of Ottawa Trail that runs along the Des Plaines River, expecting there wasn’t much to photograph there except for the habitat destruction.
Below, a very cooperative White-breasted Nuthatch.
The Chestnut-sided Warbler below was pretty well-hidden but now that I can’t take any photographs for a while I am glad I managed to get these when I did.
The bird below is a Nashville Warbler.
The last of the Baltimore Orioles. I had one visit my feeder later that afternoon…
There were a few Indigo Buntings still around as late as September 19, which was the first bird walk I led after my surgery. Most of them looked like the two below.
On my way out of the Portage on August 29, I spotted this Cooper’s Hawk who just sat, and sat, and I took way too many pictures expecting that it would do something interesting. I was too exhausted by the time it finally took off.
A little Portage flora – I am always amazed at the height of the trees so maybe the cell phone conveys them somewhat. Then there are parts of the trail that are lined with blooming flowers now – a vast improvement over the burdock from years past.
So this is what Ottawa Trail is looking like now that the levee has been finished on one side of the Des Plaines. It was relatively devoid of birds but I expected that. Others have told me, though, that the levee affords great looks at the Des Plaines River when there are water birds present, so I shall have to check that out another time.
I was able to capture a few signs of life.
On my way out of Ottawa Trail, over the parking area, a Red-Tailed Hawk flew overhead.
Elbow-wise, the cast is gone, stitches removed, and I have 12 weeks of physical therapy ahead. I actually had one physical therapy session on Friday and was reassured I had chosen the right location when I heard a crow calling as I went back to my car. As I mentioned, I managed to lead bird walks these past two Saturdays and I am so grateful to the participants who showed up and helped me feel alive again. I didn’t master the one-handed binocular skill, but now that I am cast-free, I am able to raise my left arm enough so maybe I can go looking for a few more birds this fall even if I cannot commemorate the sightings in photos. In these uncertain times it’s all the more grounding to continue one’s connection with the natural world.
I thought I’d be returning to this page with pictures from my travels but my plans have been derailed by local distractions. It seems I cannot stand at the kitchen sink and look out the window for more than a minute before a Downy Woodpecker is on the suet feeder that hangs from the sumac tree.
I planned to go to the Portage yesterday, but the weather kept me home with 35 mph winds and gusts of up to 50 miles per hour and also flood warnings along the Des Plaines. I decided not to take the chance of being blown around the trail with the possibility of trees falling on me. The Portage is likely high enough above the Des Plaines River basin not to be affected too much by its flooding but I wasn’t all that curious either. Not sure if fear of catching or spreading a virus is making me more timid to take any chances at all. Combining the weather warnings with cloudy skies and birds predictably hunkered down, I decided it was advisable to stay home. But I would go out for a walk a little later, just to experience the wind at a safe distance.
As it turned out, soon after I was out the front door, three, possibly four, Turkey Vultures appeared, coasting about on the wind. They were sallying around the neighborhood for half an hour at least. Then when I returned to my front door, I heard a nearby Dark-Eyed Junco, and got lucky with one and then another perching in the little apple tree where they posed for a minute or two. I have been trying to take pictures of Juncos for months to no avail, but have managed the past couple days to photograph the ones that visit my yard. I wonder if the birds are more curious about me, now that they are relatively free of constant human activity.
Most of the photographs below are from one sunny day last week, March 25. I went out and sat in the back of the yard soaking up the sunshine. It was midday, not the optimum for light conditions, but outside was the place to be, relatively warm, hanging out with the feeder crowd.
Even the local songster Northern Cardinal made a guest appearance…!
On Saturday afternoon late, when there were no birds in the yard, I saw the reason why. I couldn’t get very good images between the lack of light and the window screens on the porch, but here is a very hungry looking Cooper’s Hawk.
Of course as I tried to sneak out the back door for a better photo, it left.
Below is a little expression inspired by the indoor crowd yesterday. I’ve titled it “Minimalist Zebra Finches” and, of course, they participated enthusiastically.
The Mourning Doves below: I love how the male is “politely” chasing the female. I tried to capture how his neck was lit up in the second photograph.
It must have been the lighting – I was pretty far away – but this is an interesting-looking House Sparrow.
And there are worms to be had for the Robin…
Spring is coming. The days are getting longer. It’s nice to know some things haven’t changed.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
I have to keep updating this post because I can’t seem to finish it… I decided to stay home last Sunday. Originally I was going birding, but I had been to the Portage Saturday morning and subsequently needed two naps to get through the rest of the day, so I decided to stay home instead and see what I could get done around the house. I have only one more weekend before I travel. As much as I look forward to my trip, I start to feel like I never want to leave my crazy house.
So after feeding the birds and having breakfast, I grabbed the camera to go out into the yard, with the idea I would do some weeding and cleanup but have the option of taking some pictures if I felt like it. No sooner did I step out onto the back porch than I saw the only bird in the yard. It’s that time of year again, when the young Cooper’s Hawks come and sit in the middle of the yard, thinking their breakfast will come to them.
He wasn’t there long. He flew to sit in the redwood tree for a moment but it was too dark already shooting through the window and the screen to capture a decent picture of him there. Then something caught his attention and he left. I just felt lucky to have happened upon him in that moment.
The most numerous birds in the yard at that time were House Finches.
I was impressed with this squirrel’s technique. He can actually hang on the peanut feeder and eat a peanut at the same time.
The yard is in bloom, finally, after all that rain that made everything grow to towering heights. As long as the pollinators seem to be happy with it…
With any luck I will be back once more before I take off for my next adventure, but I’m making no promises. There were things I could have gotten done ahead of time, I suppose, but other real-time priorities seemed to obliterate the best of intentions. And why those thoughts of hating to leave my birds, missing the first week of choir or feeling guilty about flying start creeping in I’ll never know. It’s too late to turn back! Ambivalence won’t cut it anymore, I have to get ready! And I am looking forward to this trip. 🙂