After weather and whatever have kept me inside the past couple weeks, I am looking forward to birding both mornings this weekend and then next Saturday “officially” for the Christmas Bird Count. Then I know what will likely happen: the immediate will foreshadow the past, and I’ll still never get around to what are soon to become “last year’s photographs.” So with this post I hope to catch up with a couple dangling picture portfolios… Starting with the last fall migration bird walk in Columbus Park on October 20th.
The most unusual birds we barely saw were the Rusty Blackbirds above (two out of five of them). It was too hard to tell exactly what they were until I developed my photographs. We were otherwise seeing the usual suspects …lik Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Fox Sparrows.
I did not expect to see a robin sharing space with a Red-Tailed Hawk.
Just barely caught this adult White-Crowned Sparrow and saw a juvenile later.
Two more of the Red-Tailed Hawk.
As I’m hard-pressed for anything colorful around here lately, I’m sharing a few photos from the Missouri Botanical Garden, visited last month when the choir went to St. Louis. Not many birds made themselves available that afternoon but the garden is lovely.
Thanks to all readers, followers and commenters for checking out my blog and tolerating my state of flux. Gotta go now, but winter’s just getting started!
Last year two fellows I run into occasionally at the Chicago Portage, Steve and Mike, told me they had seen a Great Horned Owl. I believe it was Mike who showed me his stunning photo of the owl sitting on a stump over the water. But I never saw the owl until two weeks ago making my return trip on the trail that runs along the south side of the stream, when I flushed it and watched it fly to perch in a tree on the other side.
Then last weekend I saw two owls perched on the same branch, looking down at me. The first owl decided to take off when I lifted the camera, but the second owl sat there and stared sleepily at me.
So are they a pair? Most likely. I suspect the first owl is the female as it is larger. Then I wonder if they have a nest somewhere or if they’re shopping for one. Will I see baby owls? It’s more excitement than I can handle at the moment. But I do suspect that the owls’ presence will keep the other raptors I normally expect to see at the Portage away.
The Portage keeps changing. More trees coming down. I was saddened to see one of my two favorite birch trees in smaller pieces. I can’t imagine what was wrong with it.
I have seen Blue-Winged Teal the last two visits as well. I suspect they’re just visiting though and will go elsewhere to breed.
And a Canada Goose seems to have found her nesting spot in tree trunk.
Two weekends ago, it was Golden-Crowned Kinglets…
Last weekend there were a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers, although only one captured by the camera.
I was very happy to see a Tree Swallow last weekend.
Not so many sparrow species. Song and Fox Sparrows, still a few Juncos, and American Tree Sparrows still hanging on through the cold not-quite-spring-weather-yet.
Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow above, Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow below…
A few more captures before I go… White-Breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, preening Mallard, American Goldfinch.
These pictures were all taken on April 8 and April 22. Unfortunately I don’t expect I’ll be getting near the Portage again until May 12 when I’m leading a small group on a bird walk as my donation to the fundraising member auction for Unity Temple. Until then, I will be traveling at a slower pace. Yesterday I had stem cell replacement therapy on my right knee. The procedure itself was not too awful, indeed I told the physician that his description of what he was about to do to me was far worse than the actual operation and I am hopeful recovery goes smoothly. I’m feeling better than last night: I woke up with very little pain, so now it’s more a matter of keeping stable using crutches for a couple more days to keep weight off the joint whenever I can. I’m looking forward to the final portion of the therapy on Tuesday which involves a simple plasma injection. If the weather is nice, which it is predicted to be, I will be spending the time in between blood draw and later injection birding North Pond and the Peggy Notebaert Museum grounds, a local birding hotspot right across the street from the medical building. I couldn’t have picked a better location to have this done!
I’ve been back from Panama for two weeks and I’m still not done going through my pictures. Even staying home instead of going swimming a few times hasn’t gotten it done between software updates…
So I went for a walk at the Portage yesterday even though it was cloudy, because spring migration is upon us, and I wanted to get out with the camera, especially after I forgot to take it with me on Saturday when I joined Illinois Ornithological Society’s trip to lakes in Lake County looking for Common Loons and other waterfowl, named “Loonapalooza” by my friend and the organizer and leader of the trip, David Johnson. I drove for an hour to get to the meeting place only to discover that I had remembered everything (scope, tripod, water bottle, binoculars, backpack, and I thought my brain) but left my best camera with its new lens at home. It never made it out the door. Next time I’m leaving that early in the morning I suppose I should write a list and put “brain” first, camera second… I’m blaming it on my medication, but there’s no need to go there now.
Above all this useless information is a young deer that appeared across the water, came across the bridge and walked almost toward me, very unusual for after-nine-ish in the morning.
Below, a Red-Tailed Hawk flying over.
The good news is I am in love with the new lens, which until recently I didn’t even know existed because there are times when I quit looking for any more camera stuff, but the two guys with cameras on the Panama trip informed me that Canon had finally come out with a new, improved 100-400mm lens. I had stopped using the old one, which I still have, but had hardly any use for. Instead I have been struggling with the monster Tamron lens for the last two years, which was getting harder and harder to carry around and focus. I think that lens might be going on the recycle list too. Because the new Canon 100-400mm lens and my Mark III 5D are really happy together, and an extra 200mm doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a decent picture, especially if you can’t hold the equipment still.
That said, there’s still only so much you can do with anything in poor light. Like the very cooperative and friendly Golden-Crowned Kinglet below, he was pretty dull and drab yesterday.
The dead wood in the water was perhaps more suited for the weather. It is transforming into…I’m not sure what bird that resembles on the right, below.
I was happy to see a Belted Kingfisher on the water. Although even he looks gray.
Sparrows were abundant. White-Throated Sparrows, which are a dime a dozen on the lakefront, seem special here. There were lots and lots of Song Sparrows singing like crazy, even though I managed to capture a silent one. Below these two, a couple hidden shots of a fairly distant Fox Sparrow, whose rufous caught my eye and brightened up the surrounding gloom. And the final sparrow at the bottom, a Chipping Sparrow, is my first one of the season, although I’m sure I heard one in neighborhood last week.
Lots of woodpeckers but they were hard to get on. Below is a Red-Bellied on the left. The little bird on the right is a Brown Creeper, not a woodpecker, but spends as much time on trees as woodpeckers if not more, and it’s also the first one for me this spring. Click on the pictures to enlarge, and look at how beautifully the creeper blends in.
There was a bench at one end of the water but it has disappeared. However, there are a few other places to sit. I stopped to rest on a boulder that is near one of the information boards, and watched five Canada Geese flying in together and then starting to squabble over positions.
I don’t think I saw Wood Ducks last year, so it was nice to see a pair yesterday. Here’s the guy, his mate was less accommodating.
Couldn’t resist one more of the Shoveler.
Okay, well, tonight I’m going swimming unless there are thunderstorms, and I promise I will finish The Panama Pictures so I can start sharing them with you.
Thanks to everybody for stopping by, for following my inconstant blog. Happy Monday.
After a very pleasant Thanksgiving dinner with friends, by the time I’m done with the normal weekend stuff, albeit at a more relaxed pace, the huge to-do list I planned to revive looks less inviting. Maybe I’m doing nothing remarkable these four days except hanging out with the home crowd and making a serious dent in a hundred pounds of accumulated junk mail, magazines I’ll never read and sizing up my response to those end-of-year donation requests which seemed to start arriving in May.
But I have a few photos from my last visit to the Chicago Portage to share. This was two weeks ago before I spent much of last weekend preparing to sing in choirs and doing so. I have noticed one thing about singing: if I decide to vocalize and practice before I leave, all the birds join in, which means they know a thing or two about singing in unison that maybe I don’t.
I have plans to go out tomorrow morning, as the best light and weather for the weekend are predicted, and while I never go with great expectations I hope I’m ready for surprises. If nothing else I need to keep in practice holding the monster lens. I am now looking forward to taking it with me to Nicaragua at the end of February for another episode of Operation Rubythroat.
I was happy to see the White-Breasted Nuthatch again, having missed even hearing it for quite a while, even if I didn’t get that great a picture.
Also a very cooperative but backlit Lincoln’s Sparrow.
Many of the birds were too far away even for the monster lens.
American Goldfinch taking a sip of water
And the best I could do with my first American Tree Sparrow of the season was its head.
The Fox Sparrow below was incredibly backlit until it decided to leave.
Perhaps the trees’ reflection in the water says it all.
And if you’re a female Mallard on a dead log you can get away with anything.
I got out for a walk this morning, encouraged by the promise of sunshine and also beginning to feel more like I was walking instead of thinking about every step to the exclusion of everything else. It’s been bothering me that I missed the Christmas Bird Count at Fermilab last weekend, so when I passed by Cermak Woods on the way home yesterday from grocery shopping, I noticed a lot of Canada Geese were gathered there, and decided to go back and count them this morning. It’s not an official count, of course, but the data all goes into ebird anyway.
Canada Geese at Cermak Woods
Likely a family group the way they were swimming
The sunshine was late in coming but so was I, yet it didn’t seem to matter. There were roughly 100 Canada Geese at Cermak Woods. No Greater White-Fronted Geese, no Cackling Geese, not even a Mallard or two. But I was encouraged by the fact that I managed to operate the camera and the huge lens, having fallen out of practice. So I continued on to the Chicago Portage.
American Tree Sparrows at the Portage
All was quiet at the Portage until I started to walk slowly in from the south entrance which is my usual approach. I heard Black-Capped Chickadees and then began seeing lots of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-Eyed Juncos, a few American Goldfinches, and I had some White-Throated Sparrows in there too.
The last time I went to the Portage there were a lot of Tree Sparrows. I cannot ever remember seeing them at the Portage in previous years, so this must definitely have to do with the removal of trees changing the habitat to suit them.
Canada Geese at Portage Woods
Geese started arriving at the Portage in groups shortly after I did. Since they were flying in from a direction opposite where I’d come from at Cermak Woods and they were landing in the water, I started counting them as they came in. If it were not for the BirdLog Application, I could never do this, but it’s very handy. The only thing hampering my efficacy at this point was the fact that it was cold. I had on long underwear but my hands were pretty chilly, especially every time I removed my gloves to enter more birds to the count. There were a total of five Mallards mixed in with about 100 geese.
Mallards with Canada Geese at the Portage
I thought I heard Fox Sparrows, and then was lucky enough to get a recital from the bird below. I didn’t have my handheld recorder with me but I managed a quick video on the smartphone which basically has no picture worth looking at but it recorded the song this bird was singing, along with a comment or two from a Canada Goose.
Fox Sparrow, singing
As it turns out the Fox Sparrow was the “rare” bird of the day. I wondered why ebird was asking me to verify the sighting and then checked the distribution on Sibley’s app, and the northernmost part of Fox Sparrows’ winter range in Illinois is somewhere around Springfield or the middle of the state. But with climate creep, I’m not all that surprised. Besides which we have so far had a pretty mild winter.
The two birds I see regularly all year around at the Portage are Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Cardinals, and neither one of them wanted to cooperate for a photo today. But I did find this one male Northern Cardinal trying to keep warm in the top of a sunlit tree.
Northern Cardinal at Portage Woods
I’m actually looking forward to walking to the train tomorrow morning. I feel like my life has started over again. I still have a little pain and expect I will have more so I’m not going to overdo anything, but I am on the mend and that’s all I can ask for. Happy New Year!
I am nearly finished going through all the Costa Rica photographs, I think, but in between it seemed like time to check in with the local birds over the holiday. The weather was still warm and pleasant last Sunday, so I visited the Chicago Portage. I was the only human for the first forty minutes or so. I had no expectations, which is my general approach to the Portage – that way I can always be pleasantly surprised. It turned out to be a nice visit, with Fox Sparrows predominant of the 19 total species I encountered.
Dark-Eyed Juncos were present, and they have been in my backyard regularly since the beginning of November. I don’t know if I’ve seen American Tree Sparrows at the Portage before but they were certainly well-represented. And White-Throated Sparrows, a little harder to see here than they are in the city but I got at least one to cooperate.
American Tree Sparrow
On the way out, I couldn’t help but notice the growth below.
Downy Woodpeckers are always present at the Portage. Sometimes they are easy to see, other times not, but somehow the camera managed to capture this one in flight.
Female Downy Woodpecker
Perhaps my biggest surprise was to discover pictures of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker feeding on dried berries, entangled enough to show off its red belly. I honestly don’t remember taking these pictures but I must have. Unless now the camera has completely taken over my brain (beware the warnings about artificial intelligence).
Red-Bellied Woodpecker, in a more likely pose
The Portage itself is always in a state of flux and it looks like this now.
Also on the way out, about when I thought I would never see a chickadee, this Black-Capped Chickadee and a few of his buddies were foraging in dried stalks that complement their coloring perfectly.
Black-Capped Chickadee with a worm
Another view of the Portage and its low water levels. No birds in the water at all. There was one Canada Goose on the lawn by the parking lot and five flew over but nobody came down to hang out in the creek.
One last photo of the Fox Sparrow who is at the top of the page. Fox Sparrows come in different races across the country (Sibley identifies four subspecies and says they’re sometimes considered separate species). The one we get here is the “red” Taiga race and this guy certainly fits the description. I just checked the Cornell website and they mention 18 subspecies within 3 or 4 groups. They are not always so easy to see, so I suppose you could spend a lot of time and effort trying to track down different types of Fox Sparrows across the continent.
More to come from Costa Rica, and eventually a report from the home front.
I had another post in mind but it is late, I’m leaving shortly for the airport, if not in the middle of the night this time, for our West Texas birding trip. As for the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker above, this is the most yellow I have ever seen!
Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow – sort of birds “of a feather” – yes there was snow on the ground last week…
So here are a few pictures taken in downtown Chicago over the past two weeks, as the migrants come through. Specifically the location is Lake Shore East Park.
The Brown Thrasher and the Grackles are likely here for the breeding season.
The Common Grackles were ready the moment the fountains went on.
White-Throated Sparrows have been around for weeks, if not in the hundreds like they were when Daley Bicentennial Plaza still existed. Now and then one breaks into song.
I’ll be back in about a week and a half. I’m roughing it, not taking the laptop this time. 🙂
This beautiful Fox Sparrow was the bird that most intrigued me Thursday morning and then I forgot to put him in the previous post because I was so distracted by the rarer sightings that day. I don’t see Fox Sparrows enough to take them for granted, so I was initially as excited about the Fox Sparrow as the Catbird. I have added a short video of the Fox Sparrow doing his scratch dance at the bottom of this post.
The Lincoln’s Sparrow from the previous post is also in the video but for some reason the lens only wanted to focus on the Fox. It could be that the Lincoln’s didn’t appear all that distinctive to the camera as the available light kept decreasing. But it’s also user error, I’m sure.
It’s been raining on more than off all week, so the farther I get from last Sunday’s excursion, the harder it is to visualize.
The Chicago Portage is still asleep but starting to wake up now with the rain and intermittent spells of warmer temperatures.
Turtle sunning itself
Last week I purchased a Roland hand-held recorder to use in the field. I have had a Marantz with a very sensitive microphone for years, but it’s a lot to carry and I wanted something more portable. I figured by now technology had caught up with me. I’m still learning how to use it, but I managed to get a few sounds.
The picture above is not of the Goldfinch that is singing–albeit in the background overshadowed by a Red-Winged blackbird–in the clip below. The actual singer, although I did photograph him, was rather far away.
This was our songster.
A bit later there was a wonderful Song Sparrow singing, and although he wouldn’t let me get the classic shot while he was performing, he did give me a nice picture anyway.
I will keep experimenting with the recorder and from time to time share the best songs with you.
Just to taunt me, two Great Blue Herons flew over, followed by three Monk Parakeets. I managed to get a fleeting picture of one Great Blue.
Great Blue Heron
This huge fallen tree just next to the path that leads down to the Des Plaines River behind the Portage was recently dismantled. Part of its core looks diseased, making it easy prey for the strong winds.
Not too hard to find a Red-Winged Blackbird here, singing his head off.
Fox Sparrows are still at the Portage.
And the Downies are busy as usual.
upside-down Downy Woodpecker
I have seen an Eastern Phoebe almost every day this week somewhere.
The water levels should be higher this week after all the rain. If we get another break in the clouds I’ll go back and check.
Almost two weeks ago, I went with a friend to the Chicago Portage to see what birds turned up after the snow. It was a beautiful, sunny day. My pictures of the most numerous species, Red-Winged Blackbird, aren’t worth publishing (maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough to get a picture), but other early visitors and some regulars complied.
Winter is hanging on a bit longer, but it sure beats the freakish 80-degree temperatures of last year. Undeterred, the Cedar Waxwings have begun to arrive on schedule, finding sustenance in leftover freeze-dried berries.
The Downies have been here all year, but I cannot ignore them.
We were delighted to see this Brown Thrasher.
Phragmites at the Portage
The invasive Phragmites remain mighty, barren stalks that provide cover for the arriving sparrow species.
The trees are like old friends along the path.
We found this Red-Bellied Woodpecker tending to a hole…
and one of several cardinals enjoying the sunshine…
On our way out, a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks flew over: here’s one. Red-Tails used to nest at the Portage. I hope this pair decides to stay.