Common Redpolls and Friends

I hadn’t been to LaBagh Woods for years, but I started thinking about it when it seemed I might have a good chance to see some Common Redpolls. They’ve been seen farther north and nearer to the lake than my territory. I used to see them on occasion downtown by the lake, but I didn’t see any the one day I went down for crows. So Saturday I just decided to get in the car and go, one day after our last snowfall.

It’s strange enough trying to remember the layout of a place you haven’t been to for a while, let alone covered in snow. But there were tracks in the snow to follow from the main parking lot.

There wasn’t a lot of light, but I guess the snow made up for that somewhat.

Early on I took photographs of a singular Redpoll and now, after developing them, it almost resembles a Hoary Redpoll. If that was the case, it would make it rather special as they are rarer. But I think it’s just a lighter-colored individual Common Redpoll. it’s really hard to tell.

There was a sign by the river. This is the north branch of the Chicago River. It dawned on me how remarkable it is to have a forest preserve in the middle of a city.

It was at that point that I encountered a fellow birdwatcher who had been there perhaps the day before but had come back to look for lost keys. He wasn’t wearing binoculars but of course I was and we sort of recognized each other as birders. He led me to the path that goes down along the river and pointed me in the direction of where he had seen the Redpolls earlier. As I started to walk, the layout became more familiar and I did encounter a small flock of Common Redpolls, Dark-eyed Juncos and an occasional American Goldfinch.

Two Common Redpolls, one American Goldfinch and one Dark-eyed Junco

It was otherwise pretty quiet until I got down to the northern end where there are some houses that demarcate where the city starts again. Some of the houses have bird feeders. I was simply across the river from their backyards above, and there were several Common Redpolls high up in the trees. I was surprised I managed to hold my heavy lens that high and get photographs. It was simply delightful to hear their calls and watch them.

More Common Redpolls…

At least I managed a closer photograph of a Dark-eyed Junco.

One thing about LaBagh – I had never taken the highway to get there before, which may seem strange because it is right off the Edens Expressway. I have always gone the stop-and-go route through the city, but Saturday morning in January seemed like a safe bet to follow the GPS and take the expressways. Up until Saturday, I have long avoided going through the downtown area which is always congested and has become somewhat confusing due to construction, so I was shocked by the terrible condition of the road surfaces. I can’t imagine driving that every day. But at least traffic was moving and it only took me half an hour to get there and back.

More snowy scenes. The river was frozen and covered with snow except for a little open water under the bridge.

Here are a few more Common Redpoll shots.

I found a few Mourning Doves.

Beyond that I managed to get a brief photo of a Downy Woodpecker in flight after barely focusing on it exploring a tree stump. And one nice Hairy Woodpecker.

Hairy Woodpecker

I was glad to renew my acquaintance with LaBagh Woods, which is named, incidentally, after Ella LaBagh who was a force for establishing the Forest Preserves of Cook County. LaBagh is a great place to see birds during migration and I will be coming back here more often in the spring.

As for snow, the current forecast is for a winter storm warning – Tuesday night through Thursday night. I managed to find some tube sand at the local hardware store this morning and scattered some on what were some icy spots on my walks. I had used up what sand I had from last year and decided I had better get more in anticipation of more snow and ice. The tube sand was 60 pounds – I thought my limit was 50 pounds – but I managed to get it onto my dolly and around to the back porch area. I prefer sand to deicer, I don’t care how environmentally friendly the chemicals are. I have also discovered the House Sparrows consider my front steps a destination for grit for their little gizzards, which is an added bonus to using the sand.

October at the Portage

Fox Sparrow

A brief but driving squall of freezing rain in the yard yesterday morning supported my decision to not go for a walk. More snow and wind on the way today. A good day to take stock of my indoor life.

Yesterday morning also produced a brief sighting of a Cooper’s Hawk and the appearance of the large gray tomcat I scolded out of the yard as I was refilling the birdbaths before the rain started. I have perhaps 30 or more gallons of water stored in the basement and my rain barrels are still quite full. But we are due for more serious overnight freezing temperatures so I have made this my outdoor project for the weekend, draining the rest of the water and covering up the rain barrels for the winter. If predictions prove correct, we will be getting a little preliminary snow that won’t accumulate but will get us in the mood for winter.

These photographs are from October 17. I was not too surprised to discover I hadn’t processed many of them. I did find another confusing fall warbler which I didn’t report. It appears to be a first-year likely female Black-throated Blue Warbler (below).

Much easier to recognize and still pretty plentiful were Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The bird immediately below appears to have fused with the hackberry leaves.

Then there were the tree-climbing Yellow-rumpeds…

I don’t know why it’s been so hard to get a decent picture of a White-throated Sparrow, but I keep trying.

The Song Sparrow below was a more accommodating.

And another Song Sparrows popping up from the vegetation…

A reminder of how dry it still was in mid-October.

In general, Ruby-crowned Kingets were less prevalent than the Golden-crowned this fall.

Then House Finches started to emerge…

A well-seen Hermit Thrush below…

A momentarily present Northern Cardinal…

Below is an Orange-crowned Warbler… I have yet to see the orange crown on any of these but from what I understand it is barely visible.

Woodpeckers!

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

It was not easy to get a picture of the Brown Creeper below but this is just further testament to how often I saw at least one almost every time I went out.

And then there were the almost daily White-tailed Deer…

European Starlings were exceptionally striking in the light that day.

I finally broke down and started cleaning up my second bedroom yesterday. It will likely take me the rest of the year – but it’s a wonderfully freeing thought as I plow through an accumulation of treasures and junk. The first and most important motivation seems to be organizing and having one place for all the camera equipment. But hot chocolate seems more important at the moment…

Winds of October

I borrowed this title from Peter Mayer, whose song “Winds of October” runs through my head, encapsulating the chill in my bones over the last few days. Our endless summer is over. Although we are still a way off from an overnight freeze, the temperatures are much cooler and we are cloudy and rainy to boot. I can’t complain about the rain. The ground is parched, we need it.

Hoping I could see some migrating Sandhill Cranes at Goose Lake Natural Area this fall, I drove up there with my friend Lesa on Thursday morning… to find no visible cranes, only the sound of them as they likely flew overhead and landed somewhere else as we were walking through the forested tunnel part of the path. The remainder of the path has been paved with some sort of material which I am sure is better for bikes… The lake is totally gone and overgrown, and apparently nothing feeds into it.

But Lesa noticed the bizarre-looking Giant Puffball mushrooms growing off the wooded part of the trail on the way back to the car. I had never seen them before, so it wasn’t a totally uneventful visit.

We continued on to check out Glacial Park as it was nearby, and we watched the feeder birds from inside the visitor’s center… No Sandhills there either. I am not sure if I was too late again this year or if climate change is throwing off the whole scenario, but I likely will not go all the way back in that direction any time soon. But after all the great birding I have otherwise had the past two months, I really should not complain.

I needed a couple days to get caught up on sleep, to rise again early to meet Ed for the 7:30 bird walk at Thatcher Woods yesterday. Ed, who is the organizer, and I were the only two participants. It was chilly and rather cloudy – what else is new? We moved slowly around the perimeter of the grassy area and stood and observed the usual suspects. Most of them were up high and backlit in poor light.

One of only a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers

A few Yellow-rumped Warblers were barely seen. Golden-crowned Kinglets persisted. It was hard to imagine what the kinglets were grabbing out of the air and from the trees in their usual frenetic manner. But I suppose you have to be that small to find the smallest prey – likely those “no-see-ums.”

Running out of options, I took a picture of the moon. And then, as we stood there watching, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo landed on a branch right in front of us. It was no farther away than the first photo below.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I confess I hadn’t seen a Cuckoo in so long, I thought it might be a Black-billed – forgetting what one looked like. But the yellow orbital ring and the big splashy white spots on the tail make it a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

This is a bird I heard off and on all summer long and never saw. Cuckoos are notoriously reticent – in that they don’t move around much, so if they are sitting somewhere calling, well, good luck finding a bird that blends in with its surroundings and doesn’t move. Every Cuckoo I have ever seen has done something like this – either suddenly appeared, or I would happen upon one just sitting over a trail somewhere. But this one came and sat for us at least three minutes, listening to us talking in admiring tones. Maybe it related to the shutter clicks, which could sound, I suppose, like a very slow Cuckoo.

I managed to get a few photos of the other birds that were around. A Black-capped Chickadee was up high in an oak tree.

A Dark-eyed Junco and its shadow

We got a nice look at a Hairy Woodpecker. A photo of a Downy Woodpecker I saw later is below for comparison.

Downy Woodpecker

A Red-bellied Woodpecker was only partially obscured by a few twigs.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Ed had to leave early and I stayed a few minutes extra before a track team started running through. One of three Hermit Thrushes I saw is below.

A gull flew overhead – it might be a first-year Ring-Billed Gull. The black band on the tail would be reason to believe so…

On Friday, I slept in and only went out to do grocery-shopping. I ventured into my backyard in the afternoon for a few minutes while the sun was shining. I am still waiting for someone to eat the berries off the hawthorn before I cut its branches back – they are laden practically to the ground. The berries look good to me, I don’t know why nobody has eaten them yet. Didn’t the berries suddenly disappear in previous years…?

The other overgrown offering seems to be the asters that bloom this late. I don’t know how many times I cut them back from growing over the walk, but they have grown over it anyway. I can forgive them for the abundance attracting a few bees remaining.

As the rain and cold ensue and my birding travels diminish somewhat, I plan to get caught up with the rest of the fall photograph haul… Thanks for tuning in. I will be back.

Cloudy Days and the Christmas Bird Count

I participated in the Christmas Bird Count on December 19th. It was a cloudy, cool day. Not great for photographs, or for a lot of birds either, at least where I was, but it was good to see more people participating. I took both cameras with me, not knowing what I expected to do with either one of them.

If I start thinking about how long it has taken me to get back to finishing this post I won’t do it, so strike that thought and keep going. Below is a look at how the Fox River looked that morning.

I started out with the mirrorless and managed to get a rather nice view of this Red-bellied Woodpecker. Actually all the bird pictures in this post were taken with the little camera. I didn’t have to fuss around with adjusting for no light as much.

At some point we had stopped to listen for birds and saw this amazing honeycomb hanging from a tree.

We had Downy Woodpeckers (below) and a Hairy as well.

Hairy Woodpecker

It was almost not worth taking these photos of flying geese but you can appreciate just how dark and gloomy it was.

Learning more tree bark – this is a cherry tree, which the person who identified it said it looks like “potato chips.” I guess.

The fungus on this tree looks like a staircase to me.

The Cedar Waxwings were the most cheerful sight.

It’s hard to motivate myself to do anything beyond the have-to’s, these days. In particular, after the coup attempt – which is hard not to take personally – as much as I want to continue hoping I can exude a positive vibe that will land somewhere it’s needed, it’s hard to fight sheer exhaustion. But this comes and goes in waves. It’s been cold and gloomy too, which does not help. Time to get up and do something! I need to play some piano every day for the birds. Music is life.

I’m adding this White-Breasted Nuthatch that somehow didn’t make it into a Portage post of October pictures. Another mirrorless capture.

I’m not making any promises about when I’ll be back, but sooner or later I’m sure I will. It’s been confusing to be anywhere lately. Everything has a veneer of unreality to it. Maybe it’s just time to start asking the old questions again, even if we still can’t answer them.

August 30

I think I will limit my posts to one-day experiences and work my way backwards in time since I won’t be taking m(any) pictures one-handed for a while…

The Red-Breasted Nuthatch at the top of this post was one of a few fall migrants I saw the last Sunday in August at the Portage. I regret missing seeing any birds the long Labor Day weekend save the ones in my yard, but I have rescheduled my first bird walk that was to have occurred on the 12th for the 19th, and hope to see many birds then, if not be able to chronicle their passage with photographs.

It’s always a pleasure to see somewhat elusive Swainson’s Thrushes.

I had a brief encounter with the Ovenbird above, after hearing his loud, cheery song. A few Downy Woodpecker photos below, and one of a Hairy Woodpecker for comparison…

Hairy…

I happened upon two Warbling Vireos disagreeing about something…

My last Baltimore Orioles of the season…

Below on the left, a bird hadn’t seen all summer, a Brown Thrasher. Also in the gallery, a Cedar Waxwing and a male Northern Cardinal.

Clouds worth noting…

My favorite fungus, a butterfly,and pokeweed berries…

A few more of the Red-breasted Nuthatch…

My last glimpse of Indigo Buntings – all juveniles…below.