I was going to combine some photos from a few previous visits to Riverside into one post, and I hope to do that eventually, but right now here is a quick recap of my walk this morning. It was cloudy, very quiet and I saw very few birds. I hardly heard even the Blue Jays. But the trees were beautiful.
I did have a nice moment with the Dark-eyed Junco at the top of the post.
On the other side of the Joliet Avenue bridge south of the Hofmann Tower, I spotted a Great Egret and a Double-crested Cormorant. I looked for the Great Blue Heron but it was not present.
Also at the tower were the Rock Pigeons doing flight drills.
The Great Egret decided to move closer to where the dam once was.
And I barely captured a Mallard flying by.
I saw a Mourning Dove land in a tree.
I could barely see a Downy Woodpecker.
I took two views of the foot bridge.
The trees in Riverside Lawn were towering in color.
When I got back to the Joliet Avenue Bridge, I checked to see if the Great Blue Heron was in its new favorite spot by the old dam. This is where it has been for the last couple weeks.
I will be back soon with more from Riverside. I am leaving soon to see a play tonight. There might be a little sunshine tomorrow. We have a couple more days above freezing with rain predicted all day Sunday. I suspect the leaves will have all fallen soon.
I’m taking a brief break from the spring warbler photos to document a couple drought-related observations down by the Des Plaines River last week. I thought I had the perfect title for this post two days ago but I forgot to write it down, so “slim pickings” it is.
On May 24, with the river so low, I noticed some fish having a hard time negotiating some of the rocky, shallower spots.
Then on May 26, I first noticed a black bird chasing an Osprey. In other photos the bird in pursuit appears to have been a Common Grackle.
I started to follow the Osprey with the camera as it began flying around the bend in the river, looking for a fish. These are only a few (!) of the photos I took, but they are basically in order. The Osprey was desperate to find something to eat. I was exhausted following it as it searched, not to mention wondering how long it could continue expending all that energy for nothing.
So busy was I following the Osprey I nearly forgot there were any other birds. I found a couple Chimney Swifts in my photos later.
The Osprey came around again, repeating the same exercise.
Finally it decided to go after something. I think that’s the library building behind it. But it came up with nothing from that dive except wet feathers (second photo below).
Not too much later, it was back again.
Finally the Osprey seemed to have found something. I wasn’t able to focus quickly enough to adequately capture the scene below, but I’m including it anyway as I realized later I had not even noticed the Great Blue Heron watching all this. Sadly to say, the Osprey flew off without anything in its talons.
When I got back to my parked car by the Hofmann Dam, I took a few photos of a Ring-billed Gull searching for food.
The forecast remains hot and dry. We are due to cool off around Tuesday, and I can only hope that brings some precipitation with it, but the forecasters are not optimistic.
I have started branching out a bit to check some other locations here and there. I also hope to be helping out with monitoring of breeding birds at the Chicago Portage this month. Garden work persists and a few native plants are starting to bloom. There’s lots going on outside, but I am grateful for air-conditioning. And my indoor crowd has promised to help me write a little music. To be continued…
As exciting as it was to see the Osprey featured in my last post, there was even more going on last Wednesday on the Des Plaines River by Riverside, such as a rather unusual confrontation between a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. It was surprising enough to see them together, but they were getting along until they weren’t. It has been so dry, the river is way down and I imagine the search for prey getting more contentious. Below is a series of photographs I took leading up to the one above.
The river was so low this past week, almost anyone could wade into the middle of it. Perhaps that was the animating force behind the Great Egrets moving around, trying to find the best place to fish when there was so little water. I captured the egret below perched on this debris-adorned rock after it had chased off the Mallard that was sitting on it.
Later on from the foot bridge I took this sequence of a Great Egret capturing its prey. This was several feet from the shore.
Cedar Waxwings are showing up everywhere lately. They’re about the only birds not on the river itself.
The Killdeer have been hanging out on the rocks by the Hofmann Dam all summer. They have multiplied.
Also on the rocks by the former dam, a Great Egret.
Seeing Common Grackles again down by the shore. This one was sporting several colors.
The Rock Pigeons caught my eye – flying in formation.
Canada Geese are starting to show up again.
Even House Sparrows were getting into the act in the river.
Mallards could stand in the middle of the water too.
Mourning Doves were noticeable above the river.
A few flight shots from two Great Egrets.
There were a couple Spotted Sandpipers with the Killdeer on the rocks but I was unable to capture them. However I did manage to zoom in on this one by the shore not far from the footbridge.
For a change of pace, a confusing juvenile bird which I determine to be a young Northern Cardinal.
These Blue-fronted Dancers are simply everywhere.
I think that about takes care of everything else on that day. I went back on Friday morning and the water was still low. We have since had some rain and I hope the river will look a bit fuller tomorrow morning when I plan to visit again.
One thing I am enjoying very much in my retirement and more-relaxed state of mind is encountering strangers and making new friends as I walk these places more often. Whereas before when I was working I was in a mental hurry to cram in as much birding as I could manage in my free time, weather permitting, I now feel freer to engage in conversation. I meet some lovely humans, learn some interesting things, and hope I am being a good ambassador for the birds.
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.
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.
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.
After a summer of hardly seeing any Common Grackles, on September 29th of last year I probably saw at least 100. The other Bird of the Day was Osprey. I am looking forward to seeing Osprey on the Des Plaines River this year, along with all the other regular big birds – Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants…
A frequent visitor to the Des Plaines River was an Osprey or two. I tried to capture the juvenile bird below going after something.
The Common Grackles were perched in the trees along the river, but later on my way back through Indian Gardens they were all over the lawn with Red-winged Blackbirds. It’s likely they were gathering for migration southward. I never really get over those shiny blue heads.
Here’s an adult Osprey I managed to capture flying over the river.
I will always see Rock Pigeons at this location, which attests to its urbanity.
I think this is a juvenile Song Sparrow trying very hard to look like a female House Sparrow…
There was still one Double-crested Cormorant around on that day.
A Mallard hen in the bright sunshine…
I look forward to the Great Blue Herons that will adorn the river this coming spring and summer. I suspect the Great Egrets had just left by this date, but I expect there will likely be quite a number of them too this summer.
Never to be turned down, no matter how bad the light – a cooperative Blue Jay.
I frequently heard Killdeer and sometimes saw them, got lucky with this one flying overhead.
Also never ignored by me, an American Crow flying. There is nothing like a Crow. Period.
Thanks for stopping by and helping me clean up some space on my hard drive. Larger posts are likely ahead with spring migration just around the…corner. As I start to post more often the hard drive glut will be less of an issue, or so I tell myself.
As the weather improves and I go out more, there will be fewer of these retrospective posts. In the meantime it’s nice to dream of the excitement seeing these birds again.
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.
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.
Last week, I finally discovered the other side of the Joliet Avenue bridge in Riverside which everybody else, even my non-birder friends, has likely known about. By running a little later than I had planned, I magically encountered two very nice women that morning who offered some interesting history about the river communities. These photographs are from the 10th and the 16th, and I probably should have done two separate posts, again I have too many photographs.
Except for this past Tuesday. I have been trying to settle into somewhat of a Wednesday routine, going for a walk along the Des Plaines River, then on to the health club for a midday swim so I am free for choir rehearsal in the evening. The pool tends to be less crowded in the evenings, and I am accustomed to going at that time. I also like to see the night sky after I swim. But I digress. Below is a distant picture of the footbridge I had heard about that crosses the Des Plaines.
Instead of the lawn at Indian Gardens, on this side there is a paved path that follows the river from the other side of the bridge near where I park in Lyons. It goes all the way into the Village of Riverside where the library, town hall and police and fire station are all located. The bridge is just past the police and fire station. I encountered my first guide on this walk. She told me she grew up in the area and had moved away but was back to help with her parents. She said the paved path was new, had been installed perhaps only for a year. Among all her other comments, I remember her saying there was a Bald Eagle family on the river last year. I certainly hope to see some Bald Eagles here this winter.
Across from the river side of the path is a large floodplain area that sits well below street level where there are houses. There are steps leading down into it, which the first woman told me was left over from a historical toboggan slide, There’s a similar sort of structure at Swallow Cliffs in the Palos region. Tobogganing must have been popular in Cook County.
There were two Great Blue Herons on the river.
Some more views of the river, leaves and trees…
Struggling to get a picture of at least one Dark-eyed Junco, I took the one below. I hear them more often than I see them lately.
Here’s a House Sparrow near the paved path who caught my attention.
This were Red-bellied Woodpeckers both days. Below is the one on the 10th.
American Goldfinches are still making the best of seed remnants. They are blending in well.
On the other side of the footbridge is a paved road that leads to more development, most of which has since been removed. I met a woman who was driving to her physical therapy appointment – she had stopped for me to finish taking the photograph below. She pointed out several overgrown lots where houses had been. The unincorporated area floods, being too low and so close to the river. If I remember what she said correctly, the government bought out the homeowners to return the area to its natural state as a flood plain. She said wildlife had come back in full force and she was thrilled to tell me she had heard two owls calling to each other the night before.
On my second visit to this area after I crossed the bridge on the 16th and started on the trail along the river, I found a Brown Creeper and a White-breasted Nuthatch.
I think this was the last time I saw a Creeper.
From the bridge, views of Canada Geese on the river.
There were some Mallards on the river as well, but generally far away. I managed to capture these few that were closer to shore. I hope to see some other ducks soon.
After the flocks of American Robins a couple weeks ago, now it’s hard to find even one Robin. Sometimes I only hear one or two.
On the other hand, Northern Cardinals are more visible.
This busy Red-bellied Woodpecker was in the same area of the reclaimed wild space as the Brown Creeper and White-bellied Nuthatch above.
Some more views of the returned-to-wild areas on either side of the river. I will get better at identifying them as I visit more often.
It’s been so dry, it’s hard to imagine what this area will look like when it floods, but I am sure I will find out eventually.
My start and finish point, the Hofmann Tower in Lyons.
Thanks for hanging in here with me. It’s been challenging to put this mess together in any sort of logical progression. But I did want to make a strong case for this place because I will be visiting it often. I have found my second birding home.
I went back to the Portage Sunday to see if abundant sunshine would allow me to see more birds. As it turned out, it was harder to capture most of the birds – except for the Indigo Buntings who were readily available – but in going through my photographs later I discovered the camera saw more birds than I did and I found some unexpected species. Nothing rare – it’s spring migration, so just about anybody can show up.
Not only was the Vesper Sparrow unexpected, but I was also surprised to see a Black-Billed Cuckoo, although I have seen them at the Portage on occasion before.
There were swallows like the day before, although not as many. I have concluded that the Northern Rough-winged Swallows fly in a more deliberate fashion which makes them easier to capture. Still I managed to snap one photo of a Barn Swallow in the lower right-hand corner.
So the Indigo Buntings were busy singing in the sunshine. I am convinced they have an artistic sense of the best places to perch for photos. I love the way this one was initially framed by the split of the tree trunk.
Male American Goldfinches are in full bloom too.
The Red-winged Blackbirds are looking a little tired of it all already.
I thought I was hearing the tail end of an Eastern Towhee’s song – and then I spotted one way up high (used to seeing them closer to the ground). Below the shots of the male is a partially visible female Eastern Towhee.
I was also hearing an Eastern Wood-Pewee for the first time this spring. I barely captured a picture of one below.
Red bird of the day turned out to be a male House Finch.
The Baltimore Orioles are busy gathering nesting material. Both female and male birds are below.
This is a really unfortunate place for a Lincoln’s Sparrow to show up but I’m glad one was on site anyway.
I walked around back by the water reclamation district and saw three Killdeer. Below is one of them.
There were quite a few Brown-headed Cowbirds. I got closer shots of the female in the grassy area by the parking lot on my way out.
So we really, really need some rain. This is how the Des Plaines looked on Saturday. You can walk down to it easily because the bottomlands are all dried out. Unfortunately because of the lack of water, there were no birds by the river.
So it wasn’t a great day for warblers, but I did manage a few pictures of a female Bay-breasted Warbler.
Can’t leave without a Robin. It’s got to be getting harder and harder to find those worms. The Robin below has a not-so-tasty-looking worm in its bill.
With a little luck I will be back with the prelude to all this before the weekend when I will likely be outside again. There is rain in the forecast but I have learned to become skeptical of the outcome. At least it is still fairly cool, but that will change too. This is all affecting my mood, to say the least. I am looking forward to swimming tonight – a sure antidote to depression.
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.