Pave the Portage?

I visited the Chicago Portage yesterday morning. It was cold and cloudy, but not as cold or windy as today. I decided to stay inside today and wait for the clouds and winds to pass. At least tomorrow promises sunshine.

Cloudy vistas are limited by rooftops in my neighborhood so at least I get to see a bit more of the sky when I visit here.

There were American Robins in the grass close to the parking lot. Although not in focus, I decided to include this photograph which I took when I noticed the Robins sport practically the same colors as my vehicle.

The next bird I barely saw turned out to be an American Tree Sparrow when I lightened up the photos.

The Portage water didn’t appear much different from previous visits.

But it wasn’t long before I noticed that the only other vehicle that had been in the parking lot when I arrived was now on the inside trail across from where I stood. A man had gotten out of it with various and sundry articles including surveying equipment.

While I had stopped to keep my eye on him, some Northern Flickers struck up preliminary courtship behavior in the tree in front of me. The lack of good light makes these photos pretty unspectacular but you can still see the golden shafts.

I approached the incline and noticed a Song Sparrow foraging up at the top of it which put me almost at eye level with the ground.

I didn’t expect to see many birds, so I was not disappointed. The Lesser Scaup I had been seeing was gone. I hope he found his way. There were actually no birds in the water save a pair of Mallards I saw later on the other side. They appear distantly in the photo below

For what it’s worth, the bottomlands by the river are flooded. I didn’t bother to walk on the other side of the hole in the fence.

As I walked around toward the other side, I heard what sounded like Kinglets and then encountered one Golden-crowned Kinglet. Unfortunately the lack of light did not do it any justice at all.

For what it’s worth, I recorded a Purple Finch singing, although I didn’t see it but it was nice to hear.

When I caught up to the man with the surveying equipment, he was marking spots on the unpaved train with bright pink powder. I asked him what he was doing. He responded that he was working. I told him appreciated that, but then asked if he knew why he was doing what he was doing. He responded that they never tell him, but he opined that perhaps they were going to install asphalt over the dirt trail. I surmised “they” is the Cook County Forest Preserves. His “guess” appeared probable.

A Dark-eyed Junco on the existing asphalt trail

My first thought was how the addition of asphalt would interrupt spring migration and perhaps even the breeding season. I was not happy, but I did not take my frustration out on the surveyor who was only doing his job. We exchanged the proverbial “have a nice day.”

I started wondering if perhaps this was inspired by the additional visitors that this place has attracted over the length of the pandemic. And then I started envisioning more bikes coming through. I suppose asphalting this portion of the trail would also make it more wheelchair accessible, which is a noble endeavor, but I am still not happy. However, it occurred to me that I resented the pavement extending from both entrances and new bridges that were put in years ago, and somehow, the birds and the plants have survived.

Obviously the birds would rather have gravel than asphalt. I thought about getting myself over to the Portage this morning to talk with the volunteers about all this but concluded that they are powerless and possibly clueless as they might not know any more than the surveyor did. I will be going back often enough to see what actually happens.

The American Tree Sparrow before it flew down to the gravel path

There was a period of sunshine and a distant Cooper’s Hawk against the bluer sky.

I managed to capture a Downy Woodpecker looking dapper.

On the way out I barely captured a White-breasted Nuthatch.

I conclude with one in-focus American Robin. I will be back eventually with more developments on this story and in the meantime with a little historical fare.

Three Portage Visits

There has been a Lesser Scaup at the Chicago Portage for over a week. I first saw him on March 4 and have seen him on every visit since, including this morning. He seems to be content to hang out and has managed to evade predation. I find him an irresistible subject, even if most of the time he is somewhat far away.

This is a rather long post encapsulating what transpired on my walks at the Portage on the 4th, the 8th and the 10th of March. Immediately below are more photos of the Lesser Scaup from March 4 when I first discovered him.

The 4th was the first time I heard and saw male Red-winged Blackbirds here.

European Starlings are usually way at the top of the trees across the stream from where I am standing, but these two surprised me by being on my side for a change.

Robins are starting to return to the Portage and my neighborhood. They just started singing.

There wasn’t a lot happening on March 4, but it was a sunny day at least.

This young deer was too close and fearless.

Then on March 8, things were a bit more interesting. It started with Downy Woodpeckers chasing around.

I hadn’t gone too far before I saw what I believe to be the local pair of Bald Eagles perched on the electric utility structure. I can’t remember the last time I saw them here but it seems like at least two years.

When I got a bit closer, there was only one eagle perched. I then saw the other flying close by.

It was a beautiful morning.

I kept taking photos of this Red-winged Blackbird as he sang. I don’t know why I have them all here, he didn’t change his position much. But you can hear what he sounded like below.

Song Sparrows could be seen foraging on the ground near the trail.

The Lesser Scaup was present.

On my way out, I encountered three young, lost-looking deer.

And then out on the front lawn, a dead doe that had been ravaged by some beast, likely a coyote. I suspect it was the parent of the three youngsters. I decided to spare you the gorier photos on my cell phone.

As I walked to my car I encountered two Cook County Forest Preserves workers who had come to investigate and clean up. When I drove by about twenty minutes later after running an errand close by, the lawn had been cleared of the carcass.

I began making a connection in my mind between the feeding of the deer and this terrible incident and decided to talk to the man who has been distributing peanuts the next time I saw him.

So I went back to the Portage on March 10. It was a cloudy day and pretty cold.

Sometimes an American Robin will just stare me down.

The Lesser Scaup was still there.

The views that always catch my eye, looking pretty much the same two days later.

An adult Bald Eagle flew over in the distance.

Everybody was down on the ground looking for food, including two White-breasted Nuthatches. I think the one on the tree is a female and the one on the path the male. I wonder if he was going after what looked to me like part of a peanut on the trail.

I was still able to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

And a distant Common Merganser was in the Des Plaines River when I walked through the hole in the fence for a quick look.

There’s a grassy area that leads to the parking lot straight off the trail, but I rarely walk through there. I stood and watched from a distance as several American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows foraged. The American Tree Sparrows are directly below.

And here are some Song Sparrows.

For a direct comparison, below is an American Tree Sparrow on the left and two Song Sparrows. Whenever I start to confuse Song Sparrows with other streaky sparrows, I always look for the noticeable dark malar which is in the cheek-throat area.

Squirrels don’t often tempt me to photograph them but this one was available, so I did.

On the way out, the orphans again seemed too close.

One more of the singing Red-winged Blackbird.

As it happens, I did run into the man feeding wildlife on March 10, and talked with him. He did not appear to be feeding at that moment, his hands were in his jacket pockets. He said he was aware of the rules and that once even the Forest Preserve police said to him, “You’re not feeding wildlife, are you? Because if you are I will give you a ticket.” Obviously that didn’t stop him. In fact, he told me he was the one who called the police about the dead doe. He also told me that she had had a broken leg, which he surmised may have been from an automobile encounter. I told him that he wasn’t helping the deer but in fact might be harming them as they have lost their wariness of humans and perhaps other dangers. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said he was only feeding for the next couple weeks, it was going to warm up and they would have new growth to eat. Plus he was running out of peanuts. He also went off on some inane tangent about there being too many deer and wondered if “they” cull them.

So there doesn’t seem to be much one can do about him. If I see a Forest Preserve police I can approach, I will talk try to ask about it, just to enquire, but I suspect they don’t seem to think there’s anything they can do either. The police do not stay long at any location but move around from one to the next, and I don’t think they are interested in sitting around waiting for the peanut feedr to give him a ticket.

Spring presses on. I will be back soon.

This Morning at the Chicago Portage

I have to start getting up earlier! The days are getting longer and I have been giving in to a winter tendency to sleep in… but I think I better get back in shape. In any event, my birds always tell me when it’s sunrise, and on a sunny day they tell me just a little bit before. This morning was gorgeous, awash in sunshine, so after I fed everyone I headed for the Chicago Portage.

Suffice it to say we have had more snow since last week and it was a workout to walk the trails this morning. They have been navigated but the snow is still quite deep. Slow as it goes.

I hardly heard and didn’t see any birds at all until I got to the first rise where I found a couple American Tree Sparrows and several Black-capped Chickadees. The Chickadees evaded my lens but I managed to somehow focus on one Tree Sparrow.

American Tree Sparrow

So it was more snowy scenes, and some interesting sky views.

I took a look around the MWRD to see if there were any birds at all, dreaming of a misguided Snowy Owl, but not seeing anything.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD)

And the view of the Des Plaines River through the bottomlands was equally stagnant.

Beyond the obvious deer tracks, there were some interesting tracks in the snow.

I think these are squirrel tracks – they seem too closely spaced for a rabbit…?

On my way to the second bridge and out..

All was not lost. I saw a distant adult Bald Eagle through the trees but did not have time for a photograph. Still, I was glad to see one.

Here’s a tree that had American Robins in it on January 31 but none today.

I think this Red-bellied Woodpecker has become familiar with me. His territory seems to be closer to the part of the trail where I have been ending my winter walks. Anyway he saw me stop when I heard him chirping around his trees and volunteered several nice looks.

I also managed to get a few somewhat-more-distant shots of a male Downy Woodpecker before I left. Lately it seems to be getting harder to focus at a distance so I’m happy with these.

Those warmer greener photos from late September are still in the works but I felt like honoring today’s walk before the snow melts. Here’s one more of the Red-bellied.

Riverside Winter Comparison

Here’s a set of photographs I have been meaning to share since they were taken way back when, December 22, 2021, to be exact, in Riverside. I figured I could contrast what this part of the world looked like before the snow and icy cold overtook everything.

The Brown Creeper at the top of the post was on a Hackberry tree right by the Riverside entrance to the foot bridge. It was foraging about waist-level.

December 22, 2021
February 1, 2022
The Water Tower
Foot bridge

There were a lot of Canada Geese that day, including the one above with its neck tag. When I was last there, only a few Canada Geese were down on the ice.

I never turn down a chance to photograph a Downy Woodpecker, although it was a lot easier back in December.

The Dark-eyed Junco below was over by the Riverside side of the Joliet Avenue bridge.

It’s been really hard to capture Black-capped Chickadees lately, so I’m glad I managed on December 22nd to photograph this one.

Mallards below are from February 1. The sole female Common Goldeneye was still with some of them.

The unidentified fungus below was from the December outing.