That Spring Feeling

Yesterday morning was beautiful with clear skies and the promise of warm temperatures. I decided to visit Riverside because I wondered if perhaps I would see a returning Osprey or Great Egret as both as had reported in the Palos area. I did not see either of these yet, but there was a Great Blue Heron on the river.

The Des Plaines River from the Riverside Library grounds

The walk started out slow and uneventful. I found a Song Sparrow busier foraging instead of singing although I heard one earlier when I was on the other side of the river. I inadvertently flushed this individual when I advanced along the trail at Riverside Lawn.

There was a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, and later a pair of Common Mergansers as well.

Dark-eyed Juncos are still around.

One Downy Woodpecker was available for a peek.

Although the landscape is still brown, there was a little moss and lichen color by the paved walk.

The most interesting part of my walk came at the end when I returned to my car parked by the Hofmann Dam and saw a Great Blue Heron farther up river. Some time after I got over to the Hofmann Tower, it started to walk across the river to the other side. I was at quite a distance, but the heron might have taken my presence and interest in it as further incentive to move. I try to be careful and keep this in mind, but it seems nearly unavoidable.

While I kept an eye on the heron, other birds caught my attention. A posing American Robin sat for me, and a flurry of Red-winged Blackbirds were likely beginning to pair up. The singing male was clinging to the phragmites stalk he sat on through a lot of gusty wind. I liked the way the group of Canada Geese in the river blended in with the rocks.

A Common Grackle flew by.

Then the Great Blue decided to try a different location altogether and flew downstream. I managed to capture its departure.

I will continue to monitor the presence of herons. I wonder if the same Great Blue and Great Egret that presided over the shallower rocky area where the geese were sitting will return to that spot. In the interim, here’s an extra of a female Red-winged Blackbird.

It was also time for a Red-tailed Hawk to fly over nearby.

Looking back to when the Common Mergansers were sitting on the ice… I am quite sure we are done with ice on the river now and I promise not to reminisce any further.

Although I heard a Belted Kingfisher the other day, I haven’t seen one here since December 30 when I managed these two photos.

We now have three days of gloom with wind and rain in the forecast. Every time I think about going out today I decide not to, even though today probably would have ranked as a good day a month or two ago.

Yesterday afternoon was quite pleasant for digging up Lesser Celandine in the backyard before it completely takes over. This is a futile pursuit, but I feel like I must take a stand anyway. I almost wish I could do a controlled burn. In any event, I heard Sandhill Cranes overhead although I could not see them. I was out even long enough for the yard birds to tolerate my presence somewhat but with muddy gloves on I did not engage in trying for any photo opportunities.

I am just content at this point to be slowly but surely adjusting to the disruption of the time change. Since I have to get up and feed the birds every morning, I am consigned to waking up in the dark and preparing the bird breakfasts long before sunrise. I have to keep working on it because next month with walks starting at 7:00 AM, even though the daylight will have increased in the morning, I will have to get up even earlier so I can leave the house by 6:30. Luckily those planned walks are only once a week. The reward will be the welcome sights of migrating birds.

End of September: Grackles! Osprey…

After a summer of hardly seeing any Common Grackles, on September 29th of last year I probably saw at least 100. The other Bird of the Day was Osprey. I am looking forward to seeing Osprey on the Des Plaines River this year, along with all the other regular big birds – Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants…

Dry conditions last summer and fall

A frequent visitor to the Des Plaines River was an Osprey or two. I tried to capture the juvenile bird below going after something.

The Common Grackles were perched in the trees along the river, but later on my way back through Indian Gardens they were all over the lawn with Red-winged Blackbirds. It’s likely they were gathering for migration southward. I never really get over those shiny blue heads.

Here’s an adult Osprey I managed to capture flying over the river.

I will always see Rock Pigeons at this location, which attests to its urbanity.

I think this is a juvenile Song Sparrow trying very hard to look like a female House Sparrow…

There was still one Double-crested Cormorant around on that day.

A Mallard hen in the bright sunshine…

I look forward to the Great Blue Herons that will adorn the river this coming spring and summer. I suspect the Great Egrets had just left by this date, but I expect there will likely be quite a number of them too this summer.

Never to be turned down, no matter how bad the light – a cooperative Blue Jay.

I frequently heard Killdeer and sometimes saw them, got lucky with this one flying overhead.

Also never ignored by me, an American Crow flying. There is nothing like a Crow. Period.

Thanks for stopping by and helping me clean up some space on my hard drive. Larger posts are likely ahead with spring migration just around the…corner. As I start to post more often the hard drive glut will be less of an issue, or so I tell myself.

As the weather improves and I go out more, there will be fewer of these retrospective posts. In the meantime it’s nice to dream of the excitement seeing these birds again.

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.

And the one I kept seeing later and later into the season, an Orange-crowned Warbler…

Barely visible but I would know that face anywhere (Orange-crowned Warbler)

Not a lot of sparrows on hand but I managed to capture these two.

White-throated Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow

And the Kinglets – Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned…

It’s been wonderful to see Brown Creepers on so many occasions.

Always glad to see a Black-capped Chickadee who seems to return the sentiment.

This could have been the only Great Blue Heron I saw here for months since the drought caused the water level to drop so drastically.

Not a wonderful place for a Hermit Thrush to pose but I was glad to see it.

It wasn’t quite woodpecker “season” yet but I managed to see this female Downy Woodpecker.

There are lots more historical visits to make sense of – indeed a flurry of fall warblers that I was so busy taking pictures of I barely have barely had time to go through them, so they may periodically provide a little visual warmup during the cold.

I am mourning the death of my beloved singer/songwriter/implacable musician Zebra Finch male to whom I gave the name of Arturo Toscanini. He died Thursday morning. I found him on his back, on the floor of the dining room by the windows. He was still warm when I picked him up. He had been singing a lot lately, and I think perhaps he had been telling me his time was coming because I found myself thinking about how old he had to be, even though he had no signs of aging or impairment, other than it seemed his little goatee was getting whiter and whiter. The blessing in all of this is that I have one of his offspring who is singing an abbreviated version of his Arpeggio Song and an even shorter memory of his TaTaTaTaTAH Song. Also, other birds have taken up the actual Toscanini Song that he used to sing a long time ago. And there are many more songs among them to catalogue and follow. At some point I hope to go through the years of recordings (I determined I must have gotten Arturo sometime in late 2014) to see if I can put together a timeline of his compositions. In the meantime, I am incredibly thankful for all the avian musicians I still have with me. Singing is their raison d’etre, and music is life.

More Sides to the River

Last week, I finally discovered the other side of the Joliet Avenue bridge in Riverside which everybody else, even my non-birder friends, has likely known about. By running a little later than I had planned, I magically encountered two very nice women that morning who offered some interesting history about the river communities. These photographs are from the 10th and the 16th, and I probably should have done two separate posts, again I have too many photographs.

Except for this past Tuesday. I have been trying to settle into somewhat of a Wednesday routine, going for a walk along the Des Plaines River, then on to the health club for a midday swim so I am free for choir rehearsal in the evening. The pool tends to be less crowded in the evenings, and I am accustomed to going at that time. I also like to see the night sky after I swim. But I digress. Below is a distant picture of the footbridge I had heard about that crosses the Des Plaines.

Instead of the lawn at Indian Gardens, on this side there is a paved path that follows the river from the other side of the bridge near where I park in Lyons. It goes all the way into the Village of Riverside where the library, town hall and police and fire station are all located. The bridge is just past the police and fire station. I encountered my first guide on this walk. She told me she grew up in the area and had moved away but was back to help with her parents. She said the paved path was new, had been installed perhaps only for a year. Among all her other comments, I remember her saying there was a Bald Eagle family on the river last year. I certainly hope to see some Bald Eagles here this winter.

Across from the river side of the path is a large floodplain area that sits well below street level where there are houses. There are steps leading down into it, which the first woman told me was left over from a historical toboggan slide, There’s a similar sort of structure at Swallow Cliffs in the Palos region. Tobogganing must have been popular in Cook County.

The Riverside Water Tower bears further investigation.

There were two Great Blue Herons on the river.

Some more views of the river, leaves and trees…

Struggling to get a picture of at least one Dark-eyed Junco, I took the one below. I hear them more often than I see them lately.

Here’s a House Sparrow near the paved path who caught my attention.

This were Red-bellied Woodpeckers both days. Below is the one on the 10th.

American Goldfinches are still making the best of seed remnants. They are blending in well.

The foot bridge across the river.

On the other side of the footbridge is a paved road that leads to more development, most of which has since been removed. I met a woman who was driving to her physical therapy appointment – she had stopped for me to finish taking the photograph below. She pointed out several overgrown lots where houses had been. The unincorporated area floods, being too low and so close to the river. If I remember what she said correctly, the government bought out the homeowners to return the area to its natural state as a flood plain. She said wildlife had come back in full force and she was thrilled to tell me she had heard two owls calling to each other the night before.

Whie-breasted Nuthatch with … a nut

On my second visit to this area after I crossed the bridge on the 16th and started on the trail along the river, I found a Brown Creeper and a White-breasted Nuthatch.

Brown Creeper
White-breasted Nuthatch

I think this was the last time I saw a Creeper.

From the bridge, views of Canada Geese on the river.

There were some Mallards on the river as well, but generally far away. I managed to capture these few that were closer to shore. I hope to see some other ducks soon.

After the flocks of American Robins a couple weeks ago, now it’s hard to find even one Robin. Sometimes I only hear one or two.

On the other hand, Northern Cardinals are more visible.

The unpaved path leading back to Joliet Avenue on the other side of the river.

This busy Red-bellied Woodpecker was in the same area of the reclaimed wild space as the Brown Creeper and White-bellied Nuthatch above.

Some more views of the returned-to-wild areas on either side of the river. I will get better at identifying them as I visit more often.

It’s been so dry, it’s hard to imagine what this area will look like when it floods, but I am sure I will find out eventually.

My start and finish point, the Hofmann Tower in Lyons.

Thanks for hanging in here with me. It’s been challenging to put this mess together in any sort of logical progression. But I did want to make a strong case for this place because I will be visiting it often. I have found my second birding home.

Long Before the Rain

It’s been almost 3 months, which seems hard to believe, but this is a more historical account from McGinnis Slough for birds seen on September 19th, when the slough looked more like a marsh at best. Yet there was more bird activity and a couple less common sightings.

It started off inauspiciously with a European Starling.

But at some point I found a Northern Waterthrush, which is a warbler species I haven’t seen in a long time. They aren’t particularly rare but they don’t travel around in warbler flocks and are often close to water and the ground.