Quick Portage Check-up

I have been trying to take advantage of any better weekend weather since I got back from Mexico, specifically just to wander the Portage and see what’s going on. Last weekend, Sunday was beautiful and warm, but I had to spend the morning indoors singing in the choir, but even though I didn’t have high expectations for an afternoon walk, I thought anything might be interesting. As it turned out, I heard only a few birds and saw absolutely nothing save some Canada Geese and a Red-Tailed Hawk. I went out again yesterday morning, to take advantage of the only sunshine this weekend, and after walking for nearly half an hour to only hear a few birds, I finally caught up with a flock of foraging sparrows and the woodpeckers and Blue Jays I had been hearing.

Canada Geese – when there was open water

Yesterday’s stars were a couple Red-Bellied Woodpeckers.

The Downies were busy too.

When the flock first appeared it seemed to be mostly Dark-Eyed Juncos and White-Throated Sparrows. They weren’t particularly interested in coming any closer to me. But it was a delight to just stand still and watch the flock forage and move through. And when the sun was shining, it was nearly warm on my back. It was otherwise seasonably cold yesterday, with hardly any open water.

White-Throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Tree Sparrow – found in my photographs later

There were likely a few more cardinals around than the two I saw briefly. Below is one of them.

Northern Cardinal

One of a few storyboards along the trail…dressed in snow and ice.

And right behind the storyboard location appeared something I wasn’t expecting so late in the morning – a foraging White-Tailed Deer. I didn’t want to disturb her so after we connected with a few photographs I turned back and made my way out of the preserve.

I was surprised to turn around and see a Brown Creeper busy poking up this tree.

Throughout the morning the Blue Jays were noisily carrying on but they were quite distant when they finally appeared.

In all maybe there were four robins yesterday morning. I’m sure there’s a larger flock somewhere.

Grey Squirrel…
Song Sparrow – as at the very top of this post

I will be back soon with warmer memories from Mexico. As of this moment, it has just started snowing. In the interim, I would like to leave with a quote from Bill Penzey which I read this morning:

“When they do their best to get us to abandon all hope is when we must embrace it more tightly than ever.”

Asters’ Last Stand

Autumn is such a beautiful season. It evokes nostalgia, I guess, for the spring and summer seasons preceding it, and then comes up with its own color palette on the way to the grays and browns of dormancy. That very transformation may be why it’s my favorite season. I also love the cool, crisp mornings and the angle of the light. And now I will be loving the cool that much more because it will be outside my house instead of inside. I began writing this post tonight during my new furnace installation.

Common Yellowthroat (female)

This is a short, discombobulated tribute to my native garden that continues to evolve with all the visitors it attracts.

I stepped out the front door a few days ago and found the asters buzzing with activity…

I don’t know how many Northern Cardinals are here, as I have not seen more than one at a time lately. But it was nice to have one that seemed more curious than shy.

I haven’t been birding enough lately to report about fall migrants. I did find the two warblers featured in this post right outside two weekends ago. I hope to lead a bird walk at Columbus Park this coming Saturday and maybe we will see some more birds. The House Finch and Downy Woodpecker are regulars in my yard.

Cabbage White Butterfly

This was the very last Monarch Butterfly in my backyard garden on October 5.

Goodbye to all the butterflies, and it seems most of the bees and other pollinators are done for the year as well. The leaves are taking on their fall colors. The evenings are colder and the days are much shorter. Halloween is on the horizon. The New England Asters in the backyard have grown back over the sidewalk. And my new furnace is working.

A Few Fall Warblers

Blackpoll Warbler

I’ve been trying to get back to this page for a long time, but between busy weekends and even more hectic workdays, it’s been difficult to even imagine a blog post. Good intentions being what they may, I am resurfacing briefly here with some pictures from last Saturday morning in Columbus Park – before it rained on that day.

Black-and-White Warbler
Palm Warbler
Magnolia Warbler

No less surprising, I suppose, is the fact that I cancelled my walk that was supposed to take place at Thatcher Woods this morning because it was thunderstorming off and on all night and with Thatcher Woods being in a flood plain, even though the rain has stopped, it would still be too challenging to slosh around in the soggy grass looking for bedraggled, wet migrants. Indeed the entire weekend promises to be raining or cloudy. Maybe I can get caught up with some overdue blogging, as it is definitely an indoor pursuit.

Not a warbler, but practically hiding like one.

Fall warblers look a lot less flashy in general than they do in the spring, and it can be a bit challenging to determine who’s who. Luckily I got a lot of observation time with Blackpolls a few years ago when I used to go to Lake Shore East Park so they’re kind of stamped on my brain.

Below is a little video I took with my phone on Tuesday morning, which was beautiful and sunny. I had just stepped out the front door to walk to the train when I heard, and then saw, about six Tennessee Warblers foraging in my front yard which is small but full of native vegetation. They’re not easy to see – watch for movement and then you will see the birds her and there eventually, albeit they are very small! I put this up on Facebook Tuesday but wanted to share again for those who didn’t see it there. I feel like this is a testament to my native plant experiment that seem to get better every year. It’s almost as if the warblers got out their GPS and found “Certified Wildlife Habitat”. 🙂

Hummers, Monarchs and Friends

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female)

After months of hoping for visitors to my hummingbird feeders, and seeing only one Monarch butterfly at a time, I had a few hummingbirds visiting and saw lots of Monarchs over the Labor Day weekend. The hummers continued up until Monday. The winds have changed again. I hope to see more, but even if I don’t, it was wonderful to enjoy their visits and get a few photographs at home.

Outside the peace of home, my life seems to be speeding by at a breakneck pace lately, so this post will be brief, but I wanted to share a few end-of-summer moments.

Of course, no sooner did summer seem to be coming to an end with a spell of delightfully cool days, than we were thrown back into hot and humid once again for the coming days, so summer doesn’t feel quite done yet. But oh my, how the days are rapidly diminishing in length…

The Goldfinches are back. Looking a little scruffy, but it’s so nice to see them again and hear their cheery contact calls.

I bought a new suet feeder for the woodpeckers to keep up with the demand and then one day a squirrel figured out how to open it, so now twist ties are the workable solution to suet cake theft. I’ve noticed that if more than one Downy shows up at a time, the “intruder” gets chased away.

A few more photos from the yard…

Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) showed up by itself a few years ago but did not come back. So I scattered a few seeds in one spot and now I have a nice little group. I’ll be interested to see if it reseeds itself.
A young House Finch
A young male Ruby-throat…

My coming weekend is going to be very busy so I don’t know when I’ll get back to the trip photographs, but it will happen. My dove Dudlee is saying, “Who-Who” to that thought. I’m probably misinterpreting her comment as encouragement.

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.

Sunshine at the Portage

Wood Duck (Male)

The sunshine yesterday made all the difference, even if it was still quite chilly in the morning. The birds were enjoying it: I didn’t have to walk in for half an hour before I started seeing birds. Indeed, the sparrows from last weekend were all feeding just past the first bridge over the creek, and several Red-Winged Blackbirds were busy proclaiming their territories. There were not a lot of waterfowl, but mixed in with the regulars were a couple nice surprises, like the Wood Duck above.

My view over the first bridge – nothing in the water, but at least it’s not frozen.

Actually the first ducks I saw were Northern Shovelers. There were two males and one female. I think they’re quite striking.

This pair of Mallards might be staying. I caught the three below flying over the river.

Red-Winged Blackbirds on display.

The first fight of the day over territory was between two Downy Woodpeckers.

American Tree Sparrows were everywhere. This is another result of the tree removal, I’m sure.

Some Song Sparrows will be staying. I kept hearing one singing, but could not find his perch. The one on the ground below will have to do for now.

There was only one pair of geese, and I’m thinking it’s the same pair I saw last week.

Cardinals were abundant, if hard to capture.

I walked down to the Des Plaines to see if there were any more ducks or maybe a heron. The sunshine illuminated the graffiti under the bridge. There were about a dozen Common Goldeneye from my vantage point, but no herons. I liked the sunlit reflection of the trees in the water.

I never take pictures of people on the trail but it was nice to see this guy out early with his son and two dogs. It’s too bad they flushed the Wood Duck, it would have been nice to show it to them. Oddly enough for the beauty of the day, they were only humans I encountered. The accompanying landscape shots are just more bare branches and water waiting to wake up.

For as many cardinals and blackbirds that have been singing, I haven’t heard a robin until this one yesterday. Soon the neighborhood robins wlll be singing at four in the morning…

I left the Portage around 10:30 and drove to McGinnis Slough where I found enough surprises to fill their own blog post, so I will be back to report in a few days… I hope you are enjoying your own version of the anticipation of spring.

Upside Down

Downy Woodpecker

Or downside up. I have a really good excuse for not managing a blog post until now, which I hope never to use again. As much as I hate the passive voice, I’d rather phrase it like this: my car was totaled Sunday night on the way home from a meeting – the accident was unavoidable, not my fault, and I am happy to report there were no injuries and I will be getting a new, safer (should I have to crash into anything again) vehicle shortly.

It was 14 degrees Fahrenheit outside that night and I was so focused on getting the police to arrive that I forgot to take a picture of the damage, but that’s history now. So is the extraordinary lunar eclipse of that evening which I also forgot about in my distraction, although I was admiring the full moon through the window of the squad car as I sat in the back of it to keep warm while the police handled the investigation and report. So there are no spectacular images to share with this information, and I apologize.

American Goldfinch and House Finch

Instead here are some pictures from last weekend, when we got a total of about 9″ of snow, but had not yet plunged into the single digits and below which is where we are now.

I don’t anticipate getting any clearer photographs this weekend, but I will still try to capture the two Dark-Eyed Juncos and the Black-Capped Chickadee that I have seen only briefly. It was nice to see cardinals hanging out in a relaxed fashion.

I hope to be back soon, maybe even with a report about the new vehicle. In the meantime, I wish you all safety and warmth wherever you are!

Snowshine

American Goldfinch

I thought I’d pay tribute to the past weekend’s snow which is still with us, along with ice and freezing temperatures. It was a busy weekend, but a relatively quiet break from swimming, hiking and my weekly chore which involves going up and down the basement stairs swapping dirty cages for clean ones. I had the opportunity to monitor visitors to my yard.

We are promised more snow this weekend and if the forecast holds out, a few days next week as well, so I may as well memorialize the last accumulation, which I find easier to judge from how it piles up on the feeders.

I tried standing outside to try for clearer photographs on Sunday after the snow had stopped and it was sunny, but the birds were having none of it, so I did most of my observation through the porch windows and screens rather than interrupt their feeding.

American Goldfinches and one visible Pine Siskin

While I was outside, though, a male Downy Woodpecker was in the yard for a minute or two. He prefers to avoid the crowd.

The House Sparrows were having a great time in the bird baths. Living it up at the spa.

I wish I knew what my indoor birds think of the outdoor ones and vice versa. There must be some kind of awareness there.

On my way back to the doctor’s office last week, walking through Lincoln Park, I noticed one man arriving to feed geese, and then another man walking in front of me who was catering to squirrels. It occurred to me that city dwellers without backyards crave interacting with other creatures. I like to think the feeling is mutual.

Peter Mayer has a song on his latest CD called “Come Back” which sums up this sentiment perfectly. https://www.thecurrent.org/feature/2018/11/08/peter-mayer-performs-at-radio-heartland

House Sparrows in a pensive moment

Years ago I planted trees to attract birds and now I have too many trees to deter the squirrels. They scurry through the yard and across my roof like so many monkeys. I try to keep them happy enough with peanuts.

Another busy weekend looms. Thanks to all for your well wishes from my previous post! I’m feeling much better already, particularly after swimming Monday night.

House Finch
Goldfinch goodbye…

Blood, Birds and…Crutches?

Green-Winged Teal

Tuesday morning I headed out for the doctor’s office with my camera, backpack and a water bottle, because by now I knew the routine: start with a blood draw and return hours later to have my own enriched blood returned to my body. The four hours or so in between procedures was an opportunity to walk through the lakefront parks, specifically the Lincoln Park Zoo environs. It was cool and cloudy, but I was determined to go birding because I knew it was likely my last outing for at least a week or two.

American Kestrel

I was early for my appointment, so I got off the bus at Fullerton and walked in along North Pond. The first bird I saw was the kestrel above. It was just far enough away to practically elude my 300mm lens. A bit later there were two Downy Woodpeckers and a strangely decorated tree.

After 20 or more vials of blood (I thought it best not to count, but it was practically a whole tray full) I was on my own until 2:00 p.m., so I started slowly on my walk. I decided to visit South Pond since I had never been there for birding as far as I could recall, and there were two rare-for-this-time-of-year birds hanging out there. South Pond is part of Lincoln Park Zoo. I basically avoid Lincoln Park Zoo because parking is ridiculously expensive, but the Zoo itself is free and because I had arrived on public transportation, this was a delightful discovery. On the way, I encountered a pair of Northern Cardinals. Then it was on to the water.

American Wigeon

Basically the two rare birds were the Green-Winged Teal at the top of the post and the American Wigeon. But there were a number of other birds to see quite well in the water. And since I haven’t been able to visit the lakefront nearly every day like I used to, I was quite happy to get up close and personal with a few individuals.

The zoo-resident flamingos don’t “count” but they were fun to see, adding a tease of warm-climate connection to a drab Chicago winter.

Of course there were plenty of Canada Geese and Mallards, but there were also a couple Northern Pintails, Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes and Wood Ducks.

Ruddy Duck
Male Hooded Merganser

I’m so glad I got the opportunity to see these lovely ducks before I went under the needle, so to speak. My blood went back into my right knee and my left foot. My right knee was already familiar with this sort of thing from months ago so it didn’t seem to be too bothered by it, but my left foot was not happy for the rest of the day and evening, which made hobbling around the house a bit difficult. Thanks to my friends Linda and Ed for picking me up and taking me home from the train station. I decided upon one crutch to use more as a deterrent negotiating the commute on Wednesday, when I was good enough to walk to the train, however slowly. By Wednesday evening I was feeling much better and by Thursday I was practically dancing. I still have a little residual pain and swelling but it’s encouraging to be recovering so quickly and I am hopeful this might be it for a while. I am disappointed to learn that my doctor is moving his clinic away from the park, though!

Finch Frenzy

Yesterday morning when I was almost done feeding the indoor crowd, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a Red-Bellied Woodpecker at the suet feeder. I managed to get this fuzzy photo through the window and the screen but by the time I got out to the porch, the Red-Bellied was gone. Instead there was a Downy Woodpecker at the upside-down suet feeder.

I started paying attention to the Goldfinches as they were numerous, and eventually…some of them were not Goldfinches, and they didn’t look like House Finches – and I suddenly realized that the Pine Siskins I’d been hoping for were now in my yard!

Today my birding plans were trashed after I drove all the way out to Goose Lake Prairie State Park only to discover it was closed due to deer hunting. I talked with a couple guys in the Heidecke Lake boat launch and they told me the park would be open tomorrow. But that won’t do me any good because rain is predicted all day. Lesson learned. Now I know to check these places before I take off in the middle of winter. Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie was just around the corner, but I figured that might not be safe from being shot at either. I did see three crows in a field and a lovely female Northern Harrier in flight, but the two hours of driving back and forth for nothing wore me out. I decided to stop at McGinnis on the way back, but there was nothing going on there, the shallow water being frozen mostly frozen.

When I got home, I filled the thistle socks, went out by the back steps and stood with the camera until the birds came back to feed. They seemed to be less shy today in the bright sunshine. I finally had great looks at the Pine Siskins. There were four of them and they seemed to be quite friendly,

Taking a drink from the gutters.

Below are a couple pictures of a female House Finch for comparison. I think the difference in bill shape might be the most trustworthy field mark for distinguishing the two species.

It was a good day for male House Finches and Goldfinches too.

Male House Finch
American Goldfinches

I don’t know if I’ll still be in the mood to go down to see the crows on Tuesday, although if the weather is halfway decent I may as well. I’ve been invited to a party for New Year’s Eve which will likely prevent getting up very early to find birds. But now I can stay home and watch the feeders, and maybe add yet another species to my yard list.