A Cloudy Morning in Riverside

We are rainy and still warm today so perhaps these photographs from Wednesday won’t look out of place. The forecast was similar to today’s, albeit almost twenty degrees cooler, but it didn’t rain while I was out. I nearly dashed out this morning when the sun broke through the clouds because spring migration is picking up, but I am not interested in playing chicken today with the forecast, and with predicted rain and storms there is wind that will eventually drive the temperatures back down to where they were when these pictures were taken.

The first thing I noticed looking over the river from the Lyons side was swallows. They were mostly Tree Swallows.

Except for a Northern Rough-winged Swallow I managed to capture, albeit blending in with the cloudy sky reflected by the water, which was moving rather briskly. I later tried to capture the “rapids” in the photo below the swallow.

For what it’s worth, there was also a Ring-billed Gull over the river at Lyons.

There were Yellow-rumped Warblers at the riverbank at Riverside, bugging in the mud.

Distantly perched, I barely managed to capture a Belted Kingfisher, a male this time.

Showing up for the count, so to speak, a female Brown-headed Cowbird was foraging in the lawn.

Over on the Riverside Lawn side of the Des Plaines things picked up a bit. There were numerous Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are slightly larger than Golden-crowneds, which makes them appear huge by comparison when you are dealing with birds this size altogether.

“No, I am NOT going to show you my Ruby Crown”

There were plenty of Golden-crowned Kinglets as well, with these giving me some nice looks.

At one point while I stood wondering where the birds were, a Song Sparrow came and sat right in front of me for the longest time. Here’s only a few of perhaps 20 photographs. He wasn’t singing, he was pretty silent, but he wanted me to notice him. Maybe this is the same bird that gave me a recital weeks ago. The third photograph shows his feathers ruffled up a bit by a wind gust. I don’t think the temperature had reached 50 degrees yet.

This Northern Cardinal looks a bit chilly as well.

It’s always hard to tell whether you are seeing the same birds that were on the other side of the river because they tend to fly back and forth, but I suspect these Yellow-rumped Warblers were different individuals from the mud bunch.

And then out of the blue, so to speak, I saw the flash of a Northern Parula. This was a bird I had seen on the weekend before at Columbus Park – and I will try to be back shortly with that report as I managed to get better images in much better light. This warbler has been showing up in various locations around the Chicagoland area the past week and it was still early on Wednesday. I was about finished with my walk when I noticed the bird was working along the riverbank and I followed it until I managed to barely grab these images. This bird seemed to prefer foraging in old logs.

I am always good for a quick White-breasted Nuthatch.

Blue Jays are starting to show up again. I have heard them on occasion all winter but now I am just beginning to see them.

Beyond that, a couple Mallard drakes for good measure.

And one more of the Northern Parula.

I will try to be back soon as I try to keep space on the old hard drive free for inevitably more photographs. It’s going to be a rather busy week as I keep practicing for the Spring Music Festival so I am not making any promises, but a rainy morning forecast helps the blog efforts.

I would also like to dedicate this post to the memory of my former first-alto Alice Muciek who was a force for nature and music, in whose memorial service I will be singing with the Unity Temple Choir this afternoon.

Golden Crowns in Riverside

I’ve been trying to write this post since last Tuesday. Spring migration has begun, and at this rate I will not be able to get caught up until next spring. On my visit the morning of April 5 to Riverside, one species stood out, albeit the smallest: Golden-crowned Kinglet. I first encountered several by the paved path in Riverside, but on the Riverside Lawn side of the river, there could easily have been more than the 50 I reported. They were slightly outnumbered by Red-winged Blackbirds that I did not bother to photograph in cloudy light, but I did record them because some of their vocalizations reminded me a bit of other blackbirds I have heard and you can hear the beautiful cacophony in the second recording below. The first recording has the sound of the Kinglets – that little tiny tinker bell sound on top of the blackbird chorus.

Golden-crowned Kinglets
Red-winged Blackbirds

I took way too many pictures of the Kinglets because they were practically at eye level or on the ground…

Here’s how the Des Plaines River looks these days from the paved path in Riverside.

On the other side of the paved path, the flood plain was flooded a bit, providing enough water for a group of Blue-winged Teal along with Mallards and Canada Geese. As for the geese, I have been seeing 68B a lot lately.

In addition to all the Golden-crowned Kinglets I saw my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the season.

Here’s how the river looked that morning from the Lyons side by the Hofmann Tower.

When I came back to the bridge on Joliet Avenue I could just barely see a Belted Kingfisher perched far away in this tree. I had followed her in flight from another location. I have usually seen a male at this location so it was nice to see her with her rufous breast band.

There were still some Red-breasted Mergansers in the river, although they were pretty far away.

I always have room for a perching Northern Cardinal. Here are my two volunteers from that morning.

With the available light on and off, I thought these Mallards looked rather content in the fluddle.

The perched Song Sparrow sat and talked to me, he didn’t sing this time. The one on the ground looks to be a different individual.

Brown Creepers never really disappeared but they seem to be making a comeback for spring anyway.

I wasn’t able to capture a Great Blue Heron by the river that morning but I sort of managed to commemorate these two flying over.

Here are two more of my favorite Golden-crowned Kinglet photos.

I will try to get back sooner. I have been alternating visits to Riverside with the Chicago Portage and every day I have gone out, I have seen something new.

I also have been spending time visiting with my flute-playing friend Linda who very unfortunately broke her femur a week and a half ago. She is recuperating well from a successful surgery which put her back together, and she is now in rehab. I will miss playing with her in this year’s Spring Music Festival but pray for her complete recovery and making music together again.

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

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.

Going Back a Bit

I have been out locally the past two weeks and there is much to post about, but I thought it might be time to take a historical break. These pictures are all from October 19th at the Portage. Only a little over a month ago, there was still more color among the birds than the leaves. I spent a lot of time with this Nashville Warbler.

Perhaps in the instance below the leaves outshone the bird – a pretty drab-looking American Goldfinch.

The other late fall warblers were on hand. Below is a Yellow-rumped Warbler.