Hints of Spring

I keep updating this post because I haven’t gotten around to finishing it. So before it becomes completely ancient history… this is from the beginning of the month of April. Still this year…! It was Saturday, the 3rd, and it started out a bit chilly but by midday we were experiencing summer temperatures which stretched into the weekend and beyond. Since there was plenty of sunshine I made sure I got out both weekend mornings. I visited the Portage on Saturday and McGinnis Slough on Sunday.

I have since been back to the Portage, last weekend just to get out – it was barely drizzly and very cloudy, so I did not get a lot of action. But we have since burst into more green and buds and flowers and the feeling is spring, full speed ahead. That visit will follow if I can get my act together.

I have not been able to discern whether a pair of geese are actually nesting at the Portage. Unlike previous years I haven’t seen any territorial fights breaking out.

If nothing else there were a lot of Northern Flickers. Not close enough to get great shots but I did manage to focus on them from a distance. They certainly were making a lot of noise.

Also taking advantage of the sunlight was a Northern Cardinal singing away above me.

Just before I left, a Red-Tailed Hawk decided to fly over and show off.

Something about the shape of the tree below and the clouds behind it captured my imagination.

Here’s another brief look at the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet at the top of the post. Oddly enough it was the only one I saw that day, although I heard a few more. They are usually good curious sports, albeit lightning quick ones.

One turtle and a couple Mallards – not a lot going on.

A Killdeer flew over, confirming I had actually heard at least one.

Barely hints of green among the ghosts…

Nothing like ducks and Duckweed… the smallest flowering plant on earth. I don’t know that I will ever get close enough to see the flowers.

The best bird of the day was the one I barely spotted flitting about as I sat on the bench near the parking lot, at the end of my walk – an Eastern Phoebe. Not a great photo, it was so far away. But I am always thrilled to see flycatchers return.

I am going to try to report back before ultimate migration madness takes over. I will go out this weekend for sure – I don’t know how much sunshine I can count on – and the winds have been blowing from the wrong direction lately. But there is no rain in the forecast

Looking Back to Spring Forward

I started writing this post to coincide with setting the clocks forward, and now it’s taken me over another week to get back to it. But when considering all the photographs were taken a year and a month ago – on April 19th, 2020, to be exact – and I never got a chance to finish processing them until now, it’s taken even longer! I hope it’s kind of a sneak preview of what to expect in the coming days and weeks as spring unfolds at the Portage.

One of my first encounters was a pair of Downy Woodpeckers exhibiting their exuberant version of courtship behavior. At first I thought they were arguing! I have never witnessed this before so I’m glad I was able to capture it. If you click on the right panel and keep going you can see the sequence.

It appears I had way too many photographs from this excursion which might explain why I never managed to post them. Still it’s nice to revisit them, like the female Northern Cardinal below.

Below, often the first warbler to visit, a Myrtle Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Surprised to find this photograph in the mix – likely my first sighting of an Eastern Bluebird last year.

An Eastern Phoebe, dreaming of flying insects, perhaps.

Another Downy Woodpecker.

Song Sparrows…

Red-winged Blackbirds…

I don’t think there’s enough water on site anymore to attract herons, but there is plenty nearby so I should still see them flying over on occasion.

A Northern Flicker showing just a little of its golden shafts.

There were two Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers on this tree and one flew away.

A Black-capped Chickadee showing off.

A singular turtle…

An assortment of early fungus, moss and flora.

A singing American Robin

Here’s a Golden-Crowned Kinglet – unfortunately the lighting didn’t do its colors justice.

This Brown-headed Cowbird was foraging on the ground.

Canada Geese and the clouds…

Robins often seem like they want to engage in a conversation.

A Wood Duck drake in a tree. I remember trying to get this shot after I saw him land, with a lot of branches between us.

Mallards…

Blue-winged Teal…

So the Portage will still be slowly coming to life, but we’re warming up, the days are getting longer and migration has begun. Springing forward with hope.

Snow Upon Snow: Cold, Snowy Continuum at the Home Front

It seems like it will never stop snowing. And it’s generally been too cold to stay outside for very long. I am not good with the camera if I’m wearing gloves, let alone mittens. So several of these photographs were taken from the porch through the screened windows.

The first significant snowfall – it was still January.

Two pairs of Northern Cardinals have been hanging out in the yard regularly. It’s always nice to see them. They tend to show up as a group later in the day when they are less visible to predators. Or at least I think that’s their strategy.

I don’t seem to see the woodpeckers as often but was able to capture this Downy through the kitchen window when he showed up on a sunnier day.

The one day last week when it wasn’t prohibitively cold, I went out to take a few pictures and found this American Tree Sparrow in the snow next to the dogwood.

One morning when I was in the kitchen I spotted the reason for the lack of birds in the yard – a Cooper’s Hawk enjoying its meal way down at the end of the fence by the alley. I couldn’t determine what it was eating with my binoculars but it stayed a long time to finish its meal. There is so much snow it wasn’t possible to walk back there after it left to see what the remains looked like either. I had to take pictures through the window as I would have immediately flushed the hawk if I had stepped outside onto the stairs.

My most frequent and numerous visitors are House Sparrows. I think there are often upwards of 50 at a time.

I’ve had more American Goldfinches too since I replaced the old nyjer with a fresh supply. The one sunny day I was out for a few minutes gave me the opportunity to photograph the bird below.

Through the porch window, goldfinches on the thistle socks.

I sometimes see a Black-capped Chickadee in the yard when I go out to fill the feeders, and I have seen some House Finches and Dark-eyed Juncos, but I haven’t been able to photograph them. I haven’t seen Mourning Doves very often. Sadly they are likely victims of the Cooper’s Hawks.

I don’t know when I’ll be going back to the Portage or walking anywhere else for that matter. It may not be for a couple weeks. I have managed to dig out my car in between snowstorms and go swimming twice a week. I have also been walking a mile to the train to go into the office a couple times a week. This schedule will likely continue. I am looking forward to my first dose of the vaccine next Monday. Beyond all that, my next post will feature the birds inside the house as we have some new, cute kids.

Settling into Snow – Before and After

I went to the Portage last Saturday before the big snow, thinking it might be my last chance for a while. I could have gone back yesterday morning, but I decided to give in to the single-digit cold and get my grocery shopping done before it became prohibitive to go anywhere. I think I made the right decision.

It was a cloudy, gloomy morning and hardly anyone else was there, except for the volunteer crew below. They came to take out invasive species. Some time later I could smell and then see the fire they started to burn what they cut down.

I saw virtually no birds, and didn’t hear very many of them either. There were a few ducks in the Des Plaines River. One Common Merganser, four Goldeneye and a couple Mallards – none of them really identifiable below – are the only ones I saw, at a distance. While I was down by the river, four train engines came down the middle track.

Whatever the landscape had to offer I attempted to commemorate…

The iconic stump…
A snowman in the middle of the frozen stream…

Snowy scenes, gray skies…and a distant coyote.

And then came the snow. I took a picture of the accumulation on the feeder baffles through the porch window the next morning, just to document how much snow we got. A bit harder to find the female cardinal in the snowy branches.

I have had two pairs of Northern Cardinals in the yard this winter. They tend to all show up together at dusk and individually in between times. Staying home more has afforded familiarity and they seem to be a bit less wary of my presence. I was peering down at the male on the ground through the porch windows. The feeder shots were taken outside.

If I stand at the back of the lot I can watch the birds at the feeders a bit, albeit through the dogwood branches that offer the birds cover. But I don’t know how much of that I will be doing in single-digit weather…

The forecast is grim with more cold and snow for the coming week, but after that it seems we will start to warm up and maybe with some melting, we can dig ourselves out of all this snow. I should try to remember years ago when I was playing in a band, on the road at a Holiday Inn in Ogallala, Nebraska, on Thanksgiving…and going out the next day to find the snow plowed and piled up 10-12 feet high in the middle of the street. I should not feel inconvenienced by a few feet of piled-up snow! For the moment I’m going to go out and do a little snow removal so I can still open my back gate to access the trash containers. The yard birds could probably use a refill and some clean water in the heated birdbaths too. I hope you are having a lovely, warm-enough week somewhere.

Farewell 2020

My last day birding at the Portage was 12-26-20. It was quite cold, but sunny, and when I finally found the flock as I was starting to go back along the trail on my way out, between my cold fingers and foggy lenses, it was a challenge to focus the camera on anything, but I managed to capture quite a few House Finches. We have since had our first noticeable snowfall this weekend, but I gave up on birding this morning with a murky sky and waiting, all day and into tonight, for a delivery that requires a signature. So here are lots of House Finches.

While I find myself sitting around a little stunned, trying to figure out what I learned from last year, it may not be too bad to simply give in to one’s existence in the moment. I photographed the House Finch below as it was giving in to an itch.