Feeling Warmer in the Sun

I went to the Chicago Portage on Monday morning, the last time we had full sunshine, and I met a lot of birds and some people too. It was cold, but the sunshine gave a little bit more than the illusion of warmth. In all it was good to go slowly and watch the birds, but I took way too many photographs. I wonder how I will manage to get through warbler migration at this rate.

After stopping and talking to some people on the trail and mentioning that Golden-crowned Kinglets had started showing up when they asked me if there was anything new, I encountered about half a dozen of the birds and managed to capture one who volunteered for a lot of clicks.

It was almost worth it to memorialize the blue sky background.

Somewhere next to the trail by some spindly young hackberry trees I saw this very thorny plant that had the only green leaves in the entire preserve. I am not familiar with this at all. I welcome identification from any botanists out there.

I kept waiting for this Northern Flicker to fly so I might capture its golden shafts but it was definitely not going anywhere.

I never know when I will see a pair of Northern Cardinals. In this case I think she was waiting for him.

I spent the longest time behind this bird photographing it without identifying it. Backlit and alone on the path in front of me, it seemed unfamiliar. I have now decided it’s a Brown-headed Cowbird. I think I have never seen one in the cold before – in other words, it was so fluffed up I couldn’t recognize it.

There are a few American Goldfinches at the Portage. Here’s one, early on in my walk, looking rather cold.

If you stood in the right spot on the trail where I suspect asphalt will be going in, it was possible to see American Tree Sparrows everywhere. At some point one sat and started singing, and I tried to record him over a lot of noise. I did manage to get a couple recordings, as faint as they are, and they are below this photograph. I heard one singing earlier this year and compared it to the recording on my Sibley cell phone app which was made in Alaska, where they breed.

I did manage to take too many pictures of American Tree Sparrows fading into their surroundings.

I almost forgot, a Killdeer landed in the marsh and this was the best I could do through the vegetation.

I was delighted to find a Fox Sparrow in my photographs. I don’t remember taking these pictures. My camera remembered well, though.

I couldn’t help but notice the duckweed staging a comeback.

Messing around in the marshy area were a few female Red-winged Blackbirds.

And I was taken with this pretty little Song Sparrow.

On the way out, I saw the pair of Eastern Bluebirds again, only this time there was better light. They were quite far away for the most part but I tried to at least capture some of that blue.

The closer photos were of the female who is drabber in plumage but I think she is lovely nonetheless.

Perhaps the birds of the day were the American Tree Sparrows. I suspect that with the warmer winds we are now experiencing, they will be moving up north and this could have been the last time to see them.

I was going to add some photographs from March 15 – but other than the fact that it was not a sunny day, which clashes with the theme, this seems like quite enough for now. It’s rainy today and we have one more rainy day tomorrow, so I am going to try to finish taking care of some things that I keep putting off and I will be back as soon as I can get it together.

One more of the Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Sunshine Returns

It’s very cold today and it looks like tomorrow will be the same – below freezing in the morning – but the sun is shining and it’s not too windy, so that makes up for almost everything. I haven’t put my long underwear away quite yet. And it was good to be wearing more substantial boots this morning as they are warmer than the hikers.

The view from the bridge
The shallow water is a bit frozen

Things started out pretty slow with a couple Song Sparrows on the trail. There were a few Northern Cardinals behind too many branches to bother with.

When I approached the marshy area on the other side of the second bridge, which is the path that has been marked by the surveyor, I saw a lot of American Tree Sparrows – at least 20 – and that also seemed to be where the Red-winged Blackbirds were hanging out too. I concentrated on the sparrows.

On my way back heading out, I saw a pair of Eastern Bluebirds.

They were nearly too far away to photograph but I kept trying and took too many photos.

That was about it for this morning, save a pair of Canada Geese in the icy water.

By contrast, ten days earlier there was less light. Here are some leftovers from March 17. It was the last time I saw the Lesser Scaup.

I had a Brown Creeper that morning. I’m surprised the camera picked it up at all, it blended in so well.

I also had a very cooperative Black-capped Chickadee.

I got lucky with this Dark-eyed Junco who almost seems to be smiling.

No Mallards today, but I had a shiny drake on the 17th.

I will likely go back to the Portage again tomorrow to see if there are any changes. I had the place all to myself save one man who was walking and talking on his cell phone. I would like to think that no matter how many improvements they make, the Chicago Portage will still be an escape-to place and I won’t have to travel too far from my backyard.

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.

Riverside in Real Time

Who needs sunshine? I went for a walk this morning in Riverside. Of course the sun came out after I got back home, but it was considerably warmer than it has been, not too windy, not raining, not snowing…if anything, melting ice was the only weather effect I had to deal with.

My first bird was actually in Lyons by the Hofmann Tower, a Northern Cardinal singing his heart out. There’s a recording of his song below the photo.

Here’s how the river looked from the Lyons spot. No ice left.

Over on the other side of the bridge there were three Common Mergansers. I tried to get a halfway decent shot of the hen sitting on a rock before they started swimming downstream.

I finished crossing the Joliet Avenue bridge and got over to the paved path which was primarily clear, save a few deceptive patches of black ice to watch out for. There I encountered a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos but could not photograph any of them. However, the male Eastern Bluebird at the top of the post and below. I have seen him here before. He came and sat for me, proclaiming his territory. I look forward to seeing a lot more of him in the warmer months.

Looking across the river I focused on two tree stumps that looked like raptors sitting – but weren’t.

Of course there were Mallards but without much light it was hard to find a reason to photograph them, except for the beautiful feather patterns on the backs of these birds.

On my way to the foot bridge I noticed the gargoyle atop the library entrance.

I took the obligatory photographs of the foot bridge.

There were no birds to photograph over on the Riverside Lawn side of the river, but there was a lot of melting ice. I proceeded slowly.

So other than a couple more standard views, the river and the tower, I am done for the moment but I wanted to honor the appearance of the Eastern Bluebird and the song of the Northern Cardinal as the promise of spring continues.

It was good to get out for a walk and, weather permitting, I intend to continue doing so…while attending to the backlog.

Riverside Wildlife

I encounter a suitable number of people walking their dogs on the Riverside trails and lately the dogs have drawn my attention to other wildlife through their people. Last week I met a woman whose dog seemed interested in something off the path … which turned out to be the beaver below. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a clearer shot but it was wonderful to see.

Before that on November 29 which I think might have been the first time I took the mirrorless camera with me, I noticed a man standing with his two dogs on the foot bridge, looking at something. It turned out to be a relaxed Coyote lolling on what is a temporary beach on the other side of the river.

That cloudy morning at the end of November made for a beautiful sunrise, such as I saw it far away from the lake over the tops of houses.

I have seen this Eastern Bluebird a few times, just off the paved path, and managed some photos on the 29th (first below) and then again in better light with the old Canon lens last week (second group below). Either way, I have been excited to see this bird so often, gives me hope to see more in the spring.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler and the Eastern Bluebird

Those indefatigable Mallards make excellent use of the low water levels in the river.

Along with the photograph at the top of the post, here are some more of the two Downy Woodpeckers I encountered on December 8 as they were foraging peacefully together and then not so peacefully.

Fungus, unusual tree bark and uprooted trees intrigue me.