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.

End of September: Grackles! Osprey…

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…

Dry conditions last summer and fall

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.

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.

More Sides to the River

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.

The Riverside Water Tower bears further investigation.

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.

The foot bridge across the river.

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.

Whie-breasted Nuthatch with … a nut

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.

Brown Creeper
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.

The unpaved path leading back to Joliet Avenue on the other side of the river.

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.

Once More with Sunshine

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.

Vesper Sparrow

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.