There’s a huge park in Berwyn — it takes up several blocks! — that I always thought was much farther away than it actually is. I have not been walking as much as I used to the past five years, and definitely feel the need to get out and walk without having to drive somewhere first. So I walked over to Proksa Park a couple times last month and found a few birds to photograph. The round trip is about three-and-a-half miles which only half a mile less than the total mileage I used to walk every day when I worked closer to the lakefront.
I was happy to see a crow flying over on my first visit. I keep hoping to see more crows at home.
There are a lot of native plants and you can always count on American Goldfinches to take advantage of them.
The park has some nice water features that attract Mallards.
And the occasional heron, like this Great Blue Heron in the distance on my first visit.
Spacious, paved paths for walking and running…
I saw a few Magnolia Warblers here as I did almost everywhere last month.
And an American Redstart or two.
Below is a Blackpoll Warbler.
I almost forgot this lovely Gray-Cheeked Thrush. I have corrected the identification thanks to Vera’s comment – I thought it was a Gray-Cheeked to begin with but it was late and I was tired (or that’s my excuse for now). The heavy spotting gives it away and I don’t think the eye-ring is Swainsony enough.
This is a very pleasant destination and I will be visiting off and on throughout the year when I feel like getting out for a good walk.
We just had a downpour, with more rain to come. This is very welcome indeed since I have been removing plants and planting new ones around the yard and the house. We are long overdue for a good soaking. I’ll have to check the river later in the week and see if it made any difference.
I can’t believe another week has gone by already. While it seems like time should be moving slowly, I am finding it to be the opposite as my days at home fill up with work and chores. It’s as if I never left my schedule. And yet because I am home, it sometimes seems like I don’t have a schedule.
Winter returned twice this week and I was going to post a few pictures of birds in the snow but time got away from me and I’m not feeling too nostalgic for snow at the moment. It’s still chilly overnight but I think we are finally going to start warming up. And of course the question lurking right behind that is, Then What?
I went to the Portage last Saturday and Sunday mornings, because both days turned out fairly decent weather-wise. The variety of species differed somewhat between the two days, in that the Yellow-Rumped Warblers who posed for pictures and the one Ruby-Crowned Kinglet were present on Saturday but not detectable on Sunday. That sort of thing. On the other hand, I had the Bluebird on Sunday. So it goes.
I’ve been seeing Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (I call them “Sappies”) in the neighborhood all week, and had one in my yard last weekend, but this is the only one I’ve been able to sort of capture so far.
There were a lot of White-Throated Sparrows, or at least more of them than the other species. Below this grouping is a short recording of one of them singing. He had a really nice version of their song, which has always been one of my favorites.
I had no idea what was going on with these Red-Winged Blackbirds on the trail as I approached them on Saturday, but on Sunday I noticed that someone has been leaving a little pile of birdseed, so that explains the gathering and likely the behavior. Feeding the animals is a no-no. But I imagine there are more people walking the trails these days than normally do, and I think that’s a good thing. Maybe we will all treasure being outside more after our quarantine subsides.
The Tree Sparrow was seen on Saturday and not on Sunday. I don’t expect to see one again until late fall.
The female Red-Wingeds have now joined the males and everybody’s ready to start working on the next generation. On Saturday I must have had more than 50 Red-Winged Blackbirds at the Portage. I don’t think I ever saw that many last year. It could be some were passing through. It will be interesting to see how many remain to nest.
There was one male Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with a couple of Mallards.
I only got a glimpse of the crown on this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.
Woodpeckers – there were a lot of Northern Flickers. And Downy Woodpeckers are always present. I always hear a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, but don’t always see one. It was also nice to see a Hairy Woodpecker. I keep hoping I will see a Red-Headed Woodpecker here again.
This looks like a young male Red-Winged Blackbird. He must be a late-bloomer.
Robins are everywhere.
As things are just starting to turn green, mosses were attractive.
People have been reporting Hermit Thrushes so I was happy to see one. I miss seeing half a dozen of them at once downtown in the city, but maybe it’s better to see one in the woods than a lot of them on turf grass.
There were two Turkey Vultures flying around, at then at one point they landed in the trees.
A lovely Mrs. Cowbird. What more can I say?
The trees are starting to bud and this will all burst into green soon.
If you click on the dove pictures you can see nesting material in its bill easier.
There are a lot of Cardinals at the Portage but they’re not always easy to capture, especially this time of year when they’re busy setting up territories.
So here is the Bluebird of Happiness. I don’t get to see Bluebirds too often, so this was a special treat.
I plan to go out this weekend and with any luck, there will be even more birds to see. Migration continues, and I suspect the birds are having a better time of it without so much human interruption.
Some days spring seems inevitable, others it seems to be lagging behind a cold front. I’m trying to get caught up with posts that have escaped my ability to sit down and write them. So these pictures from two weekends ago start off the Slow Spring documentation. I was joined by my friend Lesa and we started off early at the Chicago Portage. Note for Sunday birders: it was easily an hour past sunrise but the forest preserve employees had not shown up yet to unlock the gate to the parking lot. We waited perhaps five minutes…
Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage
I was hoping an earlier start might reveal more activity, perhaps a mammal or two, anything different. But just as I can’t predict surprises I apparently can’t predict nothing happening either. Maybe for the birds, waterfowl in particular, nothing seemed out of whack. Except I wonder what happened to the Mallard on the upper right below, who seems to have lost a lot of neck feathers, perhaps getting caught in something while he was dabbling for food. He otherwise seemed to be okay.
The stream scene at the Portage hadn’t changed too much for the Canada Geese, except that there were fewer of them than the last time. We walked out the back trail by the train tracks that leads to the Des Plaines River and saw distant Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers, but for the most part, the birds were just too darned far away to see well without a scope. My monster lens managed to identify three Wood Ducks hanging out on a fallen limb enhanced with detritus and trash.
Wood Ducks on the Des Plaines
Song Sparrows were the most visible passerine species…
And one lady cardinal volunteered a brief acknowledgment after sitting with her back to us for several moments. Her expression conveys to me, “Just what do you want?”
Frustrated by the lack of participation at the Portage, we stopped by the house to pick up the scope and drove out to Saganashkee Slough in Palos to see the reported Eared Grebe. Eared Grebe isn’t one we see often in this area, so it seemed like a worthwhile venture. The sun was getting higher which made backlighting a bit of a problem, but we appreciated whatever perceived warmth the sun had to offer. Thanks to generous and helpful birders already at the scene, we located the Eared Grebe. It was swimming around on the far side of the slough, of course, not too far from the men fishing in the first photo below with the Red-Breasted Mergansers flying. The second photo shows the wake behind the Eared Grebe and the last photo was the best I could get from such a distance. You can click on it to get a bit of a better view.
In contrast there were perhaps twenty or more Horned Grebes (top pix below), although I was unable to find one in breeding plumage. And those show-off Red-Breasted Mergansers again.
Horned Grebe, Saganashkee Slough
Mallard drake, Chicago Portage Woods, with neck feathers…
Apologies are in order, I have been a bad blogger lately. It’s not for laziness so much as exhaustion by everything else that has to get done in life. I also think my body slowing down with its latest complaint affects everything since it’s hard to totally dismiss chronic pain. But don’t worry, temporary remedies work well and I’m looking forward to engaging with a more permanent remedy starting in a few weeks. (And I’m thinking beyond the procedure: if I have to sit around a bit more for a few days maybe I can amuse a few of us with on onslaught of blog posts…)
I have more recent excursions to report as soon as I can. I also am waking up to thinking about those big life questions that surprise me every once in a while when I come to realize how I have succumbed to the general malaise reinforced by the bombardment of media, which are designed to distract from reality. I think we’re all hovering around our own versions of this existential enigma, and once I can find all the little nuggets of inspiration that I have gleaned lately from various sources, I will try to offer them up in the context of this blog space. Thank you for being patient and staying with me.
Last Sunday morning was my only chance to get out. Rain was predicted but luckily did not start until I left the Chicago Portage. Conditions became ever cloudier which affected everything photographic, but now I am looking back on what was then warmer weather with increasing nostalgia.
I had stepped off the trail to get a better look at something and while I was standing there, a beautiful Black-Throated Green Warbler popped up in front of me. In that moment I was thankful I didn’t have my most humongous lens which might have scared him off.
Below is how the Portage looked last Sunday morning.
After the Black-Throated Green left, this Swamp Sparrow occupied the same spot for a moment.
The Black-Throated Green was unusually late for this location, so he earned a citation on the rare bird alert. But the rest of the birds were pretty predictable, like these three Mallards enjoying the open water.
A Red-Tailed Hawk made a couple backlit appearances… If you click on the images you can see more detail.
I followed the large white rump patch of this Northern Flicker in flight until it landed far across the pond.
Below, two birds that herald various stages of the approach toward winter…a Dark-Eyed Junco, a snow bird, and likely the last Yellow-Rumped Warbler until spring.
The other likely late-ish warbler is the Palm Warbler below.
And where the preserves were crowded with kinglets the previous week, I now saw only one, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, below.
On the home front, after a short sprinkle but before ensuing downpours, my yard was full of House Sparrows.
But I did still have a couple White-Crowned Sparrows who now rely on me to put out some partially chewed-up spray millet sprigs in the compost.
Hanging out with the House Sparrows by the back fence was a Northern Cardinal.
A few House Finches managed to forage on the ground.
After weeks of preparation, I jointed the Unity Temple choir in our “Best of Unity Temple Choir” concert last night. We sang for nearly two hours. I feel we did well, at least if the audience response is any indicator. It was exhausting fun.
It’s still hard to believe that the milestone has passed, however. Without much time to reflect, I am moving onward to the next challenge, which will be at work tomorrow morning. I leave you with a contented-looking House Sparrow.
Even if there is not much in the way of birds to see or photograph – a distant Baltimore Oriole, a flock of blackbirds flying by – I am still committed to going somewhere every Sunday morning, weather permitting. It has become part of my routine. Routine is great to fall back on when I feel unfocused, overwhelmed or just plain lazy.
So last Sunday I decided to visit Lake Katherine again, and then hop over to McGinnis Slough, which wasn’t far. The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, which in reality never happened. The first bird near the parking lot was this skeptical-looking female Northern Cardinal.
Female Northern Cardinal, Lake Katherine
I decided to skip the garden portion and walk around the lake. The first bird to record was likely the same Black-Crowned Night Heron I saw a couple weeks ago in the trees. Although his attempt to hide behind the grasses seemed successful to me, he wasn’t pleased with it and he took off before I could snap a picture of him in flight. When I am the cause of a bird’s flight, I don’t like to photograph it anyway, I feel too much like I’m taking advantage of the situation I created. Not to mention that usually the bird is gone long before I can get myself organized enough to capture it.
Black-Crowned Night Heron
It was a cloudy day which made it difficult to photograph anything in flight, actually. But these three helicopters sure were noisy.
Helicopters over Lake Katherine
Back on the ground, taking note of dragonflies, a Sphinx (“Hummingbird”) Moth and the geometry of a completely stripped thistle blossom.
Widow Skimmer, Lake Katherine
Thistle, Lake Katherine
Sphinx Moth on Monarda, Lake Katherine
Juvenile Mallards as big as their parents and at this time of year, looking much the same.
Mallards by the Canoe Launch, Lake Katherine
There was a Great Blue Heron stalking prey, but after taking maybe 15 pictures of him crouched low, I grew tired and never did see him catch anything.
Great Blue Heron
The heron was a bit closer when I got around to the other side of the lake.
In the middle of the lake is a small island, and in addition to two small rookery platforms which I did not photograph, there are heron sculptures which looked a lot more interesting.
But my attention to the island was first drawn by a bright orange bird on the other side of it. It’s a Baltimore Oriole that hasn’t left yet. Unfortunately it was too far away to photograph, but I like the branches hanging over the pond lilies anyway.
Lots of Chimney Swifts, which are impossible to follow, but they were so close, I had to try. At least I got one flying cigar photo.
I believe the flower below is a form of evening primrose, of which I understand there are an unbelievable number of varieties. Anyway it looks similar to what has taken over part of my yard.
Evening Primrose, Lake Katherine
By the time I got to McGinnis Slough, it was 10:30 AM or so, which is getting late by bird standards. There was not an awful lot happening. Maybe the best bird was a very close Green Heron, but with the clouds and backlighting, it doesn’t appear colorful at all.
Green Heron, McGinnis Slough
It’s impossible to look out on whatever water there is at McGinnis without a scope, so I did the obligatory scan and counted some Pied-Billed Grebes, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants, and I forget what else – I still have to input my ebird list – there wasn’t much. But there was a Deer Fly who was fascinated by the scope cover. Better the scope cover than me. I am usually swatting at these things, but this one was a model insect. My what beautiful eyes you have.
Deer Fly on the scope
On the way back to the car, a few Barn Swallows taking a preening break.
Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough
The American Goldfinch below is likely a juvenile male, if the faint darkness on his crown is any indication.
American Goldfinch, Lake Katherine
Summer continues, although for the moment we’re having brisk fall weather. The days are still long but they get shorter and shorter, and every other week it seems I have to make an adjustment to the length of the timers on the lights in the house, so the indoor birds can see where they’re going during people hours.
It turned out to be not quite as cold as predicted today, and the sun was shining brightly. I was already thinking of going to Brookfield Zoo to see if there were any birds around the Wilderness Trail. I was not sure whether the Wilderness Trail would be closed off, but I knew the Zoo would be open. Their motto is “Open 365 Days a Year.” It was almost a shock a couple weeks ago when they closed with that first big snowfall that took us deep into our lasting arctic plunge. By the way, did anybody even pay attention to The Groundhog today? Sunny day, I knew he’d see his shadow. I’m afraid he was already eclipsed by the weather forecasters and the Super Bowl. You know it’s getting bad when even The Groundhog becomes obsolete.
Icicles on the trees at Brookfield Zoo
The Zoo doesn’t open until 10:00 a.m., so I had the early morning to feed the birds, unbury the car from yesterday’s snowfall which seemed more like 6 inches accumulation instead of 10, eat my oatmeal and play piano before I went. When I arrived around 10:30, there were perhaps a dozen cars in the parking lot at the North Gate. Admission was free today. I’m sure they did not want to pay the ticket takers if they expected few visitors.
The Wilderness Trail is out behind the Great Bear Wilderness exhibit and borders the Salt Creek. It has been built around a small lake. The trail is never very crowded, but today it was totally empty, although someone had carved a trail in the snow before me.
Not very many animals outside today. I had no intention of going inside, since I only wanted to walk the Wilderness Trail and the camera would not appreciate the transition from 14 degrees to 78 degrees. But on the way to the Wilderness Trail I encountered two camels in their outside pen, and while it seemed strange to see camels in the snow, these are Bactrian Camels, native to Mongolia, so I guess snow and cold are nothing new to them. They certainly seemed well-protected.
In warmer winters past, the shallow little lake attracts Northern Shovelers and Hooded Mergansers, but this year with only a small area of open water, there were only Canada Geese and Mallards. And the resident Trumpeter Swan put in an appearance standing on one foot on the ice at the edge of the water.
The rest of the small lake was frozen and covered with snow.
The feeders, on the Salt Creek side of the trail, attacked the usual suspects.
On the other side of the fence by the Salt Creek there were a couple young White-Tailed Deer. While the birds did not mind my presence, the deer were upset with my camera and kept moving ahead.
Overall my visit to the zoo was nothing spectacular, but it was good to be outside in the sunshine, and the pristine snow, as sick and tired as I may be of shoveling it, is still beautiful. Meanwhile, back in the birding world, there have been many White Winged Scoters reported on the lakefront. Tomorrow will be only slightly warmer than today, but sunny again. I will try to get out to Monroe Harbor tomorrow afternoon and see if I can find a White-Winged Scoter or two; while I’ve seen them before, it’s always been at a distance too far away to photograph. Anyway it’s something to look forward to.
Sunday morning I was still too worn out from the Friday and Saturday to go very far, so I made a trip to Fullersburg Woods in DuPage County, closer to home. Fullersburg has a range of habitats and the trails are easy to navigate, but the focal point for me in summertime has to be the Salt Creek running through it. It’s a beautiful setting.
I did not expect to see very many species, but I thought perhaps I could get a little closer to a heron or two. My first discovery was not a bird but a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. Butterflies are rarer sights this year.
The herons did not disappoint. A few steps along the Salt Creek and I found a Great Egret who was more concerned about its catch than me taking its picture.
Same goes for a juvenile Solitary Sandpiper.
Farther along, the birds were a bit less obvious. Click on the picture below to see if you can find the Green Heron.
Green Heron in disguise
I caught up with it later at a much closer range.
And now see if you can find the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo in the photo below.
Yellow-Billed Cuckoo – where are you?
Mallards are always expected. These were catching morning naps.
Sleeping with one eye open…
At some point this dragonfly decided it wanted to blend in with the trail right in front of me.
The trail that runs along the Salt Creek meets up with Graue Mill to the south where there is a waterfall which supplied the power to run the mill.
Waterfall at Graue Mill
The Great Blue Heron that appears at the beginning of this post eventually became tolerant enough of my presence to give me the photo below. I then left him to continue fishing.
The Chicago Portage has so much history it’s almost too much to think about. And yet if it wasn’t a historical landmark it probably would have been developed over by now. It’s adjacent to train tracks, the Chicago Metropolitan Water District, and Interstate 55, not to mention Harlem Avenue also known as good old Illinois Route 43. Instead of counting birds lately I find I’ve been keeping track of how many planes fly over while I’m wandering through; the Portage is also right in the flight path of Midway Airport.
But the planes roar overhead and when they’re gone, the remaining traffic noise seems almost benign by comparison. Whatever the ambience, there is still wildlife. I never thought of the duckweed as attractive, but this Canada Goose seems to be wallowing in it.
The pervasive scum lends a pointillist feel to the image of these Mallards below.
While I’m dabbling in impressionism, what about this Red-Breasted Nuthatch searching for hidden treasure in the dead leaves…?
A Red-Eyed Vireo came out for the sunlight that traded off with the cloud cover all morning.
There are little story boards displayed in a few places along the trail at the Portage, and I think one of them has a caption, “if these trees could talk.” Sometimes the trees do talk – they creak, sway and moan. What’s left of this tree has an enormous web attached to it, catching debris.
Finally, this Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker might be my favorite “painting” photograph, for the light on the bark and his back.
Perhaps the attraction I have to the Portage lies in the stark contrast between its cluttered wildness and the manmade mess that surrounds it.
Spring and all things new again, at the Chicago Portage. We’ve had enough rain to add water to the ponds and streams that otherwise appear dead with overgrown algae in the summertime because no water flows directly into them. Creatures manage to make a living off this place anyway.
Lots of turtles sunning themselves. Yesterday was beautiful, cooler than it was last week but still quite warm in the sun.
There is one place under the bridge closest to the south side that has moving water draining out of the Portage…
More birds heard than seen but when I arrived the Blue Jays were making a lot of racket, and I figured they’d be predictably hard to see. The butterflies were barely cooperative.
I think these are Cabbage Whites.
This cardinal was singing.
And down at the north end, a pair of Canada Geese have arrived to choose a nesting spot,
and I guess you could say the same for the Mallards.
Northern Flicker, Yellow-Shafted
There were several Northern Flickers, for the most part flying away, but I managed to catch this one off guard.
And my reward at the end of my walk was a Blue Jay who didn’t seem to mind my presence as long as he could hide behind a twig.
Here he is a little less twiggy but not quite as blue.