Sunshine before the storm…

I couldn’t stay inside another day, so I went to the Portage yesterday morning, armed with my walking stick but braving the sunshine without long underwear or my warmest hat. It was still cold, and there was plenty of ice, but the sun was shining so brightly it demanded my attention.

With the exception of the Northern Cardinal at the top of the post, and some Canada Geese flying overhead, there were no birds available for photographs until I was almost done with my walk. Due to the ice cover I decided not to do the inner trail on the opposite side of the pond. I wasn’t hearing any birds so I probably didn’t miss much.

Canada Geese flying over

I took a lot of pictures of snow and ice. This will all turn to mud today and fresh snow will cover it tomorrow.

Frozen deer tracks
Des Plaines River iced over

As I headed toward the last part of my walk, I heard the Red-bellied Woodpecker calling, and then a couple Black-capped Chickadees joined him. A pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches also appeared. We had a nice visit. This Red-bellied Woodpecker likes to get his picture taken and I can’t help but oblige.

There was a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches. First I saw the male, and then the female.

The chickadees have not been engaging with the camera lately. I suspect all their food sources are higher up in the trees.

But there was a Grey Squirrel who was curious.

When I got home, the only bird in my yard that I could see was this Mourning Dove.

I kept looking outside and not seeing any birds in the yard. I decided around 1:00 to go out and start cleaning up what I could under the feeders before it turned into a soggy mess. The minute I opened the back door, I saw the Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the redbud, facing me. The explained why there were no birds in the yard.

I have decided it’s too windy to visit Riverside this morning on my way to the health club for my midday Wednesday swim. Although the Winter Storm Watch for tomorrow has been revised to a Winter Weather Advisory, a Wind Advisory has been added for today. There were no goldfinches in the yard this morning and so far only the House Sparrows and a few House Finches have flown in frantically and flown out.

It’s already quite warm and we will be in the fifties by afternoon. It should be raining by the time I leave for choir rehearsal. The rain will turn to snow Thursday morning with snow continuing of and on the entire day. Winter is not done with us yet.

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.

Winter Comes to the Backyard

We had to cross the 2021 finish line to get our first significant snow which turned out, thankfully, to be less than predicted. But the storm continued to rage eastward and wreaked havoc elsewhere. Suffice it to say we are cold and there is snow on the ground. And my feeders in the backyard have become very popular.

It’s been a couple weeks since I took the pictures below of the Cooper’s Hawk – through the kitchen window, on the fence – but less than a week later I found a pile of Mourning Dove feathers in the yard – before the snow covered it up.

All these photos are with the little mirrorless camera. I am trying to use it more and it’s handy for the backyard. Most of the pictures were also taken through windows with screens which isn’t ideal but it’s been hard to stand outside and wait for the birds to come back in the yard lately.

The American Goldfinches have been back in numbers. I counted 36 of them this morning. I wasn’t sure how they were going to adjust to the new feeders but they seem to be perfectly happy with them and I find them much easier to deal with than their beloved socks which got dirty and full of holes too many times.

Some of these pictures were from a previous snow on December 28. That snow was wet and sticking although it melted away a day later. It was worth capturing when it was clinging to the trees and remnants of plants in the front yard.

Then on the 29th…when the snow was gone…

A very tiny Fox Squirrel appeared in the yard

I did manage to get outside for a few photographs on January 2nd. A male Downy Woodpecker was the easiest to capture.

.A few goldfinches managed to tolerate my presence.

I don’t see very many House Finches lately, so it was nice to see this one.

A very small representation of the House Sparrows that visit.

I haven’t seen more than one Dark-eyed Junco at a time so I have no idea if there are more in the yard.

Today we have blowing snow and wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour with a wind chill presently of 1 degree above zero. The forecast is for even colder weather the next two days. I did manage to go to the Portage yesterday and will be back with that short visit a bit later.

Sadly our choir rehearsals have been put on hold. We are to have a Zoom meeting next Wednesday. I am not surprised by any of this, but it is difficult to continually digest all the uncertainty. I am grateful for the fall in-person rehearsals and our concerts that occurred just in time before Omicron became our destiny.

I wish you safety and warmth and some joy in the little things.

Cloudy, Windy, Snow Later…

I was working on a post with photographs from last month yesterday…while indoors because of rain. This morning’s forecast was at least drier, but cloudy, windy, not promising for anything except the beginnings of snow, but what is definitely to be expected this time of year, so I went for a walk at the Portage just to see what I might find. Here are the clouds, fallen leaves, trees, a young buck and a couple birds I found. It was interesting nonetheless so I am bucking tradition here by posting in a more timely fashion…before I go back to history.

The clouds needed no enhancement as I imagined them full of cold, wet rain ready to turn into snow.

Leaves underfoot… and still many left on the trees.

Below is one of my favorite oaks exposed, having lost its leaves, but framed nicely by the golden-leafed tree behind it.

Much of the Portage looks less colorful.

There were perhaps 30-40 Canada Geese spread out in two groups.

I encountered this young-looking buck and we stared at each other for a while. The White-tailed Deer have not been at all skittish lately. Not that I want to get too friendly with them: apparently they have become carriers for the Covid-19 virus.

On my way out, a Red-tailed Hawk flew over the trees, identifying itself immediately with its call.

Earlier I encountered one very cold-looking Mourning Dove sitting on a branch high up in a tree by the water. Mainly this photograph is to illustrate how windy it was. For the most part, the other birds were in hiding. Even the woodpeckers. I heard a few but didn’t see any.

I will be back very soon with photographs from October… although there are plenty more from November. I hope you are adjusting well to the time change and the weather. Thanks for stopping by!

Down by the River After the Rain

These photos are from two visits to the Riverside trail on October 20 and 27 – both after periods of some significant rain. Although the Des Plaines is nowhere near flood stage, it is good to see it looking more like a river.

Activity around the Hofmann Tower on 10-20 consisted of two flock bursts – the expected Rock Pigeons and also a flock of Blackbirds, mostly Red-Winged.

I saw an Orange-crowned Warbler on both occasions.

Below is a Nashville Warbler I saw on the 20th.

It was hard to get a good photo of this Double-Crested Cormorant through the trees but still nice to see on the 20th. I saw one flying a week later and wonder if it was the same bird…

It’s somewhat easier to get Northern Cardinals to sit still for a photo this time of year. As long as they feel somewhat shielded by a twig…

I saw Brown Creepers on both occasions, and was lucky to photograph this one on the 27th.

A Mallard here and there…

European Starlings are in groups, as usual.

One of those Red-winged Blackbirds still hanging around.

Below on the left is the sign posted at either end of the trail in Riverside that runs along the river. On the right is a sign opposite the western end of said trail, which denotes the Plank Road Meadow which features a boat launch.

House Finches are more visible now.

A tree full of Mourning Doves…

I expect to see more White-Throated Sparrows, but managed to capture only the one below.

I was going to simply add the photo directly below and call it a Tennessee Warbler – even though the face looked a little suspect to me. Then this morning when I flipped over the Audubon calendar hanging over the kitchen sink to November, the photograph of the bird on it looked like the one below, only it was identified as a Pine Warbler. So I took out The Warbler Guide to confirm – because now it was showing up as “rare” on my ebird checklist – and went to the bill shape again. That’s what made the face of this bird not look at all like a Tennessee.

Just to elaborate, I rescued the photos below from my external hard drive and found a few more clues to the Pine Warbler identification. There’s ever-so-slightly a hint of wing-bar showing on a couple photographs, but best of all is the one I brightened up a bit, where the bird is looking directly at me. That’s a Pine Warbler face if I ever saw one. I have to be more careful going through all these photos!

Below is a lovely little Song Sparrow.

The remaining Great Blue Heron is not as visible now from the bridge.

Catalpa tree seed pods on the left, and well-eaten Pokeweed on the right.

An American Robin for good measure…

Not sure whose web this is but I found it interesting.

I saw the Red-tailed Hawk flying below before it landed in the tree.

A few more scenes of this location as the late fall progresses.

We are flirting with overnight freezing temperatures. Indeed, this morning I had to scrape the frost off the windows of the car before I went for a walk at the Portage. Today I will be draining as much water as I can store into empty vinegar gallon bottles, to be used in the now-heated birdbaths all winter.

And as the days get shorter and I see fewer birds… take fewer photographs… maybe I can start revisiting the reason why I started this blog in the first place: my fascination with bird song and the birds’ reactions to music. For the moment, I would like to share with you a funny incident I happened to record way back on August 29th. I was playing piano – I have been revisiting Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” – and perhaps that day it had become a bit of drudgery – I was likely distracted by the fact that my effective retirement date was 2 days off. In any event, I struck a wrong chord while playing the 9th piece of it (“Ritter vom Steckenpferd”) and my indoor crowd IMMEDIATELY let me know that was not acceptable. Which not only proves they were right, but also that they are always listening! Below is the clip. Enjoy. 🙂

Great Blue Heron

Beautiful Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

On May 1st, on a somewhat cloudy morning which turned sunnier, I encountered the first of a few Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers coming to claim their territories for the summer. This provided an unusual opportunity to grab some really nice photographs.