Hodgepodge

My bird observation life has been peripatetic at best. Last Saturday was probably the best recent weekend day to go out, but I was at our annual choir retreat for three hours in the morning to prepare for this coming Choir Sunday. The weather was predictably cloudy and more miserable last Sunday so I stayed at home and took some pictures of the yard crowd.

I did manage to get out on March 31st to the Portage. Even though it was chilly and cloudy, I wanted to see if there were any new arrivals. For the most part I saw regular visitors. One White-Breasted Nuthatch was particularly cooperative. Perhaps he is related to the one who visits my yard on occasion.

The locals were all busy.

Perhaps the most evident Sign of Spring was seeing the return of a Turkey Vulture.

March 31st at the Portage still sleepy.

In the yard, I am happy to still have two Pine Siskins hanging out. I hope this means they have become regular visitors.

The Goldfinches are looking a little in-betweenish these days.

Not too clear pictures through the porch windows and screens but the House Finches are bonding. There’s a Pine Siskin mixed in the group shots too.

When I managed to stand in the backyard and wait for the birds to come back for photos, a male Downy Woodpecker made sure he checked out everything.

I still have a Dark-Eyed Junco or two, as of Sunday. And even though we had a nice warmup on Monday and Tuesday, the winds have shifted and we are back into chilly, windy gloom.

In a way I am glad I have not had time to start cleaning up my yard because there are undoubtedly a lot of overwintering insects I don’t want to disturb.

This Saturday I’m “leading” a walk at Columbus Park. So far the weather looks promising. I expect we will have a few migrants and with any luck I’ll get some pictures of them.

I’m looking forward to Choir Sunday. Our last rehearsal is tonight. We are singing a wonderful work by John Kramer entitled “The Immigrant Experience.” If you are anywhere within striking distance of Oak Park, Illinois, I urge you to attend either one of the two Sunday services at Unity Temple. Yes, this is a plug, but for a good cause. The music will be breathtaking.

With any luck I’ll be back to this page before next Saturday. Then I will be gone for a birding trip to Big Bend and the Hill Country in Texas. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, and I wanted to see it before any habitat is destroyed by the border fiasco.

Putzing Around the Portage

Too far away for a sharp image but still lovely to see.

The signs of spring are evident. Birds are moving, the days are getting longer even if we artificially shortened the morning hours, but I still needed to be reminded by the official first day of spring on the 20th. The last two weekends I have visited the Portage just to see what signs of life are emerging, however slowly. Robins are back and setting up territories in the woods as well as in my neighborhood. Red-Winged Blackbirds were audible on both visits to the Portage, if not displaying yet. Perhaps most exciting last Saturday was seeing my first Eastern Bluebird of the year, even if it was clear across the creek.

I started imagining what it must have been like before all the House Sparrows and accompanying civilization…when I envision Bluebirds ruled. Then I started reading about how Bluebirds have made a come back of sorts, thanks to people putting up nest boxes, and they prefer open fields for habitat, so as the Portage loses more trees maybe I’ll see them a bit more often there. But for the most part I don’t live near Bluebird territory.

Juncos have been photographically elusive for me this winter and last Saturday was no exception. I probably was looking at the last ones I’d see for a while. On the other hand I was surprised to see a Pine Siskin (below) but likely their occurrence in my yard this winter is part of a trend.

There were more American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows hanging out by the thawed pond than anything else.

There was open water last weekend, as opposed to the weekend before, but only one pair of Canada Geese and a Mallard or two.

Otherwise, a White-Tailed Deer, and below her, what the frozen raging Des Plaines looked like two weekends ago, from a distance.

I have only heard/seen one Red-Bellied Woodpecker so far…

My plan is to go back out tomorrow morning, when we are promised sunshine, to see if there are any more changes occurring. On my way to the train this morning, I noticed the Silver Maples are budding on the neighborhood streets. We are still flirting with a few overnight temperatures below freezing, but it looks like March will go out like a lamb.

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.

On and Off the Trail

I think I’ve found one reason why my feeders have been left alone lately. Saturday I came home from birding and looked out the back porch windows. There was a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the flowering crab. I didn’t know if I’d be able to document the occasion as usually the minute I go for the camera, the bird vanishes. But this one not only stayed, but after preening in my flowering crab, she moved over to my neighbor’s fence and sat there for the longest time, even tolerating me coming out the back door and taking photographs for several minutes. This is obviously a young bird. She even looked a little bored.

I couldn’t go to the Portage Saturday. When I got there, the entrance to the parking lot was blocked by two forest preserve vehicles and roped off. I realize now that a tree close to parking was being removed. I turned around and went to Ottawa Trail, not knowing what to expect this time of year.

There were obstacles on the trail everywhere, which made the desolation and quiet all the more interesting. I guess.

It was all I could do to get pictures of the White-Throated Sparrow and a lovely Song Sparrow as they foraged around in the vegetation. There was a Winter Wren but I couldn’t focus quickly enough. The monster lens is all the more challenging in the cold with gloves.

I’ve wanted a decent photograph of a Dark-Eyed Junco all winter. I’ve seen them in my yard very early in the morning. I’ve seen small flocks of them on occasion. But I can’t get one to sit still long enough. This is strange after I’ve had them practically walk up to me on previous occasions. So the one below will have to do for the moment.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the Canada Geese on the Des Plaines…

Desperate to capture anything that moved, I followed this fox squirrel for a while.

And could not resist a shot at the annoying police helicopter hovering overhead. The thought crossed my mind they might be looking for someone. I can verify that if the birds were scarce that morning, humans were even more so.

There was some lovely tree fungus on the way out.

I went to the Portage yesterday before I started my annual Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread Manifesto, the loaves from which I will likely continue to distribute into the New Year. The only thing better than the smell of bread baking is cinnamon bread baking. The candlelight service last night was absolutely gorgeous and I’m glad I took part, although I almost fainted from continually standing up to sing carols in between the parts of the service we sang as a choir, all arranged artfully around prayers and the homily and… I was glad to come home, tuck the birds in and go to sleep. It’s good to feel like all is well, if only for a moment or a day. I didn’t get through any of my household projects, but there’s still next weekend. Today just feels like a good day to linger, play music, write, and restore. And dream about longer days filled with more music.

I wish I could share this bread with each and every one of you!

Fall Migration Continues

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

I think fall must be my favorite season at the Chicago Portage. The birds blend in with the autumn colors, the leaves start to fall from the trees and then every once in a while a bird takes a quick leaf-like descent as well. This past Saturday, after my morning commitment to Thatcher Woods where we had scores of Yellow-Rumped and Palm Warblers, I decided to see what was up at the Portage. Below are two of perhaps 100 Robins…

Directly below, two Common Yellowthroats at Thatcher Woods.

I always take a picture of the water, such as it is, at the Portage to document how it changes from season to season…

Portage 9-29-18-1268There is water enough to bathe in as this female Red-Winged Blackbird was finding out.

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Red-Winged Blackbird (male)

The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below was at Thatcher Woods…

And the Palm Warbler below was at the Portage.

PAWA Portage 9-29-18-1565Tennessee Warblers and Orange-Crowned Warblers often get confused in the spring but these two made it easier for me.

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Tennessee Warbler

Orange-Crowneds always looks to me like they have a slight eye-ring.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

I missed seeing a flashy male Black-Throated Blue Warbler this year but I’m glad to have found a female of the species, wearing her muted fall clothes.

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Black-Throated Blue Warbler (female)

Blackpoll Warblers in their fall plumage are stamped permanently on my brain after a few years ago when there were many for several days at my old stomping grounds, Lake Shore East Park, so I was delighted to find this lovely individual.

At one point I encountered some workers who were taking down a tree. I spent some time talking to one while another was driving wedges into what was soon to be the stump. It turns out the trees were not birch but white poplar, which is an invasive species and that is why they were removing it. Come to think of it I don’t recall ever seeing a bird in those trees although they had become a landmark and I thought they were rather attractive. After I was given clearance to go beyond the workers, I grabbed two quick clicks in the distance as the tree fell.

For all the Robin activity there were only a few Cedar Waxwings…

My view from the first bridge at the Portage yielded a Mourning Dove and a House Wren.

MODO Portage 9-29-18-1265HOWR Portage 9-29-18-1255I almost thought I had missed all the Indigo Buntings but there were still a few youngsters left.

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Indigo Bunting

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Northern Cardinal (female)

I was delighted to see a Swainson’s Thrush if only for a moment…

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Swainson’s Thrush

Eastern Phoebes…

Just starting to see Dark-Eyed Juncos, the harbinger of colder weather coming, I suppose. But after not seeing them all summer I am glad to have them back.

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Dark-Eyed Junco

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are coming through as well.

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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

GREG Portage 9-29-18-1318The Des Plaines was so low, this Great Egret was wading out into it quite a ways from the shoreline.

We had a lot of Northern Flickers at Thatcher Woods. Here’s one of them checking out a future home, perhaps.

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Yes I am a Yellow-Rumped Warbler

And Monarch Butterflies are still migrating. I love the way the Poke Weed looks this time of year. I knew the birds were attracted to it but I guess the Monarchs like it too.

Monarch Portage 9-29-18-1497After hearing and rarely seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees all summer, it was nice to get good looks at this one.

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Eastern Wood-Pewee

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This last photograph is of a Downy Woodpecker who was foraging low and obscured by the vegetation but I like the pastel colors.

More to come, I have three more Saturday bird walks, weather permitting. We seem to be entering a rainy spell but from the looks of the Des Plaines last week we can use it.

Owls at the Portage

GHOW 04-08-18-9007Last year two fellows I run into occasionally at the Chicago Portage, Steve and Mike, told me they had seen a Great Horned Owl. I believe it was Mike who showed me his stunning photo of the owl sitting on a stump over the water. But I never saw the owl until two weeks ago making my return trip on the trail that runs along the south side of the stream, when I flushed it and watched it fly to perch in a tree on the other side.

Then last weekend I saw two owls perched on the same branch, looking down at me. The first owl decided to take off when I lifted the camera, but the second owl sat there and stared sleepily at me.

GHOW 04-22-18-0989So are they a pair? Most likely. I suspect the first owl is the female as it is larger. Then I wonder if they have a nest somewhere or if they’re shopping for one. Will I see baby owls? It’s more excitement than I can handle at the moment. But I do suspect that the owls’ presence will keep the other raptors I normally expect to see at the Portage away.

The Portage keeps changing. More trees coming down. I was saddened to see one of my two favorite birch trees in smaller pieces. I can’t imagine what was wrong with it.

I have seen Blue-Winged Teal the last two visits as well. I suspect they’re just visiting though and will go elsewhere to breed.

And a Canada Goose seems to have found her nesting spot in tree trunk.

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Two weekends ago, it was Golden-Crowned Kinglets…

Last weekend there were a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers, although only one captured by the camera.

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I was very happy to see a Tree Swallow last weekend.

Not so many sparrow species. Song and Fox Sparrows, still a few Juncos, and American Tree Sparrows still hanging on through the cold not-quite-spring-weather-yet.

Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow above, Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow below…

Woodpeckers: Downy, Red-Bellied, Northern Flicker…

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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Northern Flicker

A few more captures before I go… White-Breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, preening Mallard, American Goldfinch.

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Brown-headed Cowbird

These pictures were all taken on April 8 and April 22. Unfortunately I don’t expect I’ll be getting near the Portage again until May 12 when I’m leading a small group on a bird walk as my donation to the fundraising member auction for Unity Temple. Until then, I will be traveling at a slower pace. Yesterday I had stem cell replacement therapy on my right knee. The procedure itself was not too awful, indeed I told the physician that his description of what he was about to do to me was far worse than the actual operation and I am hopeful recovery goes smoothly. I’m feeling better than last night: I woke up with very little pain, so now it’s more a matter of keeping stable using crutches for a couple more days to keep weight off the joint whenever I can. I’m looking forward to the final portion of the therapy on Tuesday which involves a simple plasma injection. If the weather is nice, which it is predicted to be, I will be spending the time in between blood draw and later injection birding North Pond and the Peggy Notebaert Museum grounds, a local birding hotspot right across the street from the medical building. I couldn’t have picked a better location to have this done!

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Requiem Eternam…

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Two “regulars” in the Rosebud

How long does it take to stop hearing a piece like the Faure Requiem in one’s head? The powerful experience Sunday morning of singing the Requiem twice as a member of the Unity Temple Choir, after the anticipation of the event woke me up periodically the night before, not to mention the weeks of rehearsal: I guess I have been living the Requiem. In spite of the incessant rain we had an ample and appreciative audience. After services the rain stopped for a while, so I took a walk around my neighborhood to see what spring migrants, if any, were trapped by the cold north winds. Internally possessed by the music, birding allowed the music to go on playing in my head at full blast. So far I have gotten through yesterday and this morning with my usual distractions of Spanish and French on the phone and summoning Peter Mayer on my way into the office, but bits and pieces of the Requiem still haunt me. Yesterday with the Kyrie it occurred to me that I caused conversations to be held in D minor.

Here’s a little roundup of two weekends in the yard and environs. I struggle with how long I can endure the cold, and the birds struggle with deciding when their hunger overcomes their inability to ignore my presence.

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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker inspecting the utility pole

More Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers in the conifers around the edge of Freedom Park which is just at the end of my block.

The rain changed to snow overnight. Again. It’s as if there was a repeat sign at the end of last weekend. While I am still thankful for my undisturbed leaf litter cradling the new green shoots that seem to be emerging from the soil nevertheless, the greenery is beginning to look tired and frozen. The snow shots are from last weekend when unfortunately I had to take them through the porch windows.

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Hermit Thrush (Freedom Park)

The mourning doves are in full courtship mode, in spite of the chill.

Dark-Eyed Juncos have been a force, and it’s delightful to hear them sing on occasion. I love the subtlety of their individual variations in plumage.

Last Sunday I was surprised to discover an Oregon Dark-Eyed Junco in the yard. There are six subspecies of Dark-Eyed Junco, and the one we get consistently is the Slate-Colored. The easternmost normal occurrence of the Oregon in its winter range is Nebraska and its breeding range is in the northwest, so it’s considered rare in Illinois. There have been a couple other reports of other individuals locally.

The American Goldfinches are coming into their breeding plumage slowly but steadily, some more advanced than others. I’ve been seeing mainly males at the feeders.

One of my backyard robins put on a little fashion show using the new back gate as its catwalk.

Ho hum winter grey clouds…

A little ray of sunshine: a goldfinch enjoying a drink of water.

AMG0 04-08-18-9339On the radio this morning I heard that this date last year, we were in the 80’s. Likely I was complaining about that. Oh well. We won’t be getting anywhere near that for a while, I suspect, but with any luck we are done with snow until – dare I say it – November.

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