Snowy Days

It was snowing when I started writing over an hour ago. Winds from the south pushed us up to 68 degrees Saturday, only to collide with winds from the north Saturday night which produced thunder, lightning, and some rain, and the north winds persisted so forcefully yesterday morning I did not venture out for a walk anywhere. I am watching the snow falling outside presently from the comfort of my futon as my indoor birds conduct their daily pursuits of eating and nest-building, with a few territorial tiffs in between. Somehow revisiting snowy photographs from January is less depressing knowing that the present snowfall is only temporary as the days continue to stretch at both ends. Today’s snow is heavy and wet but not sticking to the sidewalks. I spread some sand around to provide traction in the icy in-between.

All this seems so mundane and it is, in view of everything else, but it’s still part of life too. Perhaps one needs to consider the mundane while hoping that the almost unimaginable, terrifying scenarios don’t become mundane as well.

So here are some select photos from various visits during the month of January 2022 at the Chicago Portage.

I don’t often get a chance to photograph a female Northern Cardinal who isn’t obscured by vegetation, so it was nice to see this one in the snow.

The males hardly ever have the option of blending in, wherever they appear, and they know it.

The deer can blend in easily however.

I love to see this view of the north bridge through the bare trees. It will disappear behind foliage soon.

American Tree Sparrows were not numerous, but present this winter. In late February, which I think was the last time I saw one, I heard someone singing. It was a song I did not recognize, but I confirmed it was an American Tree Sparrow with the recording on my Sibley app and took note of the fact that the recording was made in Alaska, where these birds breed. So I guess I was lucky to hear it at all.

White-throated Sparrows like the one below and at the top of the post will be singing a lot soon as more of them come through. I look forward to hearing them again. Their song is probably the first I was able to recognize of any migrant, it is so distinctive and tuneful. They don’t all migrate quite so far as the American Tree Sparrows, some breeding in the Northern Highland of the U.S.

One day I noticed a Red-bellied Woodpecker on the ground, which is not where I usually see them.

The same woodpecker is in the photographs below. It turned out that a man I have seen this winter, whom I now think of as “Mr. Peanut”, wanders the trails with a plastic bag containing peanuts in the shell. When I saw him later after I took these photographs and mentioned that the Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoyed one of his peanuts, he said he brings the peanuts for the deer, who just love them – I’m sure they do. I did not admonish him, as much as I thought perhaps I should. I am not one to lecture (he’s friendly, but bigger than I am). In any event, this woodpecker was paying attention to him as well and managed to get one of those peanuts, which made a nice photo or two.

On one of those visits in January, I managed to barely capture the Red-tailed Hawk I saw on practically every visit, albeit at a distance.

On January 31st I saw the tree-trimmer below.

Today’s snow has ended. I did not have to shovel my walks. Snow is in the forecast again for Friday, but likely it will be another one-day affair. I just noticed the clocks move ahead this weekend. I don’t know if I’m quite ready for this. My birds won’t mind. They’ll just think I’m getting up that much earlier to feed them.

Riverside in Real Time

Who needs sunshine? I went for a walk this morning in Riverside. Of course the sun came out after I got back home, but it was considerably warmer than it has been, not too windy, not raining, not snowing…if anything, melting ice was the only weather effect I had to deal with.

My first bird was actually in Lyons by the Hofmann Tower, a Northern Cardinal singing his heart out. There’s a recording of his song below the photo.

Here’s how the river looked from the Lyons spot. No ice left.

Over on the other side of the bridge there were three Common Mergansers. I tried to get a halfway decent shot of the hen sitting on a rock before they started swimming downstream.

I finished crossing the Joliet Avenue bridge and got over to the paved path which was primarily clear, save a few deceptive patches of black ice to watch out for. There I encountered a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos but could not photograph any of them. However, the male Eastern Bluebird at the top of the post and below. I have seen him here before. He came and sat for me, proclaiming his territory. I look forward to seeing a lot more of him in the warmer months.

Looking across the river I focused on two tree stumps that looked like raptors sitting – but weren’t.

Of course there were Mallards but without much light it was hard to find a reason to photograph them, except for the beautiful feather patterns on the backs of these birds.

On my way to the foot bridge I noticed the gargoyle atop the library entrance.

I took the obligatory photographs of the foot bridge.

There were no birds to photograph over on the Riverside Lawn side of the river, but there was a lot of melting ice. I proceeded slowly.

So other than a couple more standard views, the river and the tower, I am done for the moment but I wanted to honor the appearance of the Eastern Bluebird and the song of the Northern Cardinal as the promise of spring continues.

It was good to get out for a walk and, weather permitting, I intend to continue doing so…while attending to the backlog.

The First Thaw

I was almost going to revert back to sunnier and greener times – and I probably will in the next post – but it occurred to me that in the middle of summer, no matter how unbearably hot it gets, I won’t be going back to any cold, grey, icy scenes as something to look forward to, so I may as well organize a more recent outing here.

I went out yesterday morning to Riverside, where I hadn’t been since the end of December. The forecast was cloudy but warmer – and anything warmer than the 5 to 10-below wind chills sounded possible to me. Still I decided to carry the little mirrorless camera so my agility negotiating icy spots would not be compromised. I was sure there would be plenty of ice but at least there are no hills to navigate on the Riverside trail, unlike the Portage. Below is what the river looked like going over the Joliet Avenue bridge.

There was open water here, which was not always the case farther down the river. As I walked across the bridge I thought of the Yellow-rumped Warbler I saw close to the bridge back on December 22nd.

I started down the paved path, and I began to see some ducks in the water – but I was hearing an insistent little ticking call behind me. I turned around, and the Yellow-rumped Warbler was up in a tree telling me it was still here. I am glad I managed to get a photograph of it.

I don’t know exactly what it is, it’s probably a combination of things, but I think a point of mutual exchange occurs with birds sometimes that is plainly a result of my paying attention. This was not a “coincidence” but rather, the Yellow-rumped Warbler was responding to my thought about it. I remember a dear former boyfriend who was an electrical engineer, who used to say “thoughts are things.” Indeed they are.

I am also reminded of some lyrics from one of my favorite Peter Mayer songs, “World of Dreams”:

“In the smallest measure of anything at hand
Entities of energy are alive in a whirling dance
Even our own bodies are not as we perceive
But made of the same stuff our thoughts are made
In this world of dreams
So do we live and move amidst illusions?
Has what we’re seeing fooled us
And only exists in our minds?
And what are we to do with such conclusions?
For what cannot come true in a world of a
Mystical kind?”

Anyway, this encounter with the Yellow-rumped Warbler was special. It was encouraging to know it had survived the awful cold. I was beginning to wonder how much more cold I could take. Yesterday was the first day I managed without long underwear.

There were perhaps 50 Mallards total – where two weeks before there had been a couple hundred Canada Geese. There were no geese in the water yesterday. But there were diving ducks, which I had never seen at this point in the river before. Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneye.

It was gloomy all morning. The sun kept trying to get through the clouds but it didn’t happen.

Here’s how the river looked closer to the foot bridge.

And the foot bridge itself.

The closer I got to the ice, the more serious it looked.

But at least the foot bridge had a railing, and I was able to grasp the suspender cable at the end to go downhill toward the foot trail, which was a lot safer.

Not knowing what kind of pictures I could get of birds with that camera under these conditions, I just tried when I could, and got lucky with the one cardinal at the top of the post – they have been difficult subjects lately – and a few mixed results otherwise. There weren’t a lot of birds out. And yet I managed to report 16 species.

A Downy Woodpecker and a Dark-eyed Junco

And yes, another Brown Creeper. I’m just amazed the little camera did such a good job.

Not much else from yesterday – just snowy ice and predictable gloom. The temperatures rose quite a bit by the afternoon. Today was supposed to be cloudy and I started cursing the sun when it came out because I only had plans to go grocery shopping. But I decided to make more oatmeal cookies before I went out. I’ve been hooked on these lately – I’ve been making them with yogurt instead of milk and they’re not too sweet, just full of oats and raisins.

The last cookie – and the new batch for future consumptions…

May as well go out with the same color as the beginning. I will be back shortly with greens.

Footprints in the Snow

It’s simply too cold to venture outside for a walk today. I had hoped I would be up for a walk anyway – the sun is shining brightly – but with a wind chill of 14 below and a predicted high of no more than 14 above, I think I will simply wait for it to get warmer over the weekend.

I was last at the Chicago Portage on January 4. Even though I was the only human there, it immediately became obvious that several others had preceded me the days before.

I always take a photograph of the statue first just to commemorate the light. And in this case, a little snow on it.

It was a fairly sunny day and not windy, so I could stand and wait for birds to pop up. But there really weren’t many. I struggled to get a halfway clear picture of one very cold-looking White-throated Sparrow.

When I did finally see some Northern Cardinals, they were too far away.

Here are a few snowy scenes. Just enough for a contrast to the shades of brown.

The sky was often undecided about sunshine or clouds.

A view of the Des Plaines River

But there were deer. Several of them.

And more footprints caught my attention.

I barely heard the woodpeckers and did not see them at all. My greeter Black-capped Chickadee was excited to see me but he wouldn’t stay still very long.

I barely captured a Dark-eyed Junco.

Before the snow and cold, Canada Geese were everywhere. On this day, I noted only four flying over.

On the way out, I heard a White-breasted Nuthatch but when I tried to find it, instead I saw a Brown Creeper. Since they don’t sound anything alike, there’s no way I could have mistaken the elusive nuthatch for a creeper or vice versa. But this is a phenomenon I have noticed on several occasions this winter, so they must be foraging in the same trees. Anyway, below are some photos of the creeper.

I have a treasure trove of some slightly older and significantly older photographs to go through and they will come in handy during this cold spell when I just can’t find the courage to brave the elements. The weather hasn’t stopped me from going out at night to swim, it has only made the outing that more surreal. But I am grateful for the opportunity to get some exercise.

Christmas Week at the Portage, Part II

I will be short on narration with this post – the day after Christmas at the Portage was somewhat more of the same as two days before. There were a couple species of birds I did not see on the previous visit. The Fox Sparrow below, for instance, unfortunately did not give me a better view but it had been weeks since I’d seen one so it was nice to see anyway.

And then months perhaps since I saw my last Kinglet – there was a Golden-crowned Kinglet, not captured very well at all, below.

This was the first time I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the bottom of a tree.

Somewhat obscured but not bothered by my attention to it, a White-throated Sparrow.

More Red-bellied Woodpecker shots through the trees…

I haven’t run into large flocks of House Finches lately but there were a few around.

Always nice to see a Brown Creeper.

American Goldfinches seem to be matching the golden-hued Portage lately.

Some common birds trying to escape attention…

European Starlings in a gnarly oak
An American Robin behind bars

This female Northern Cardinal blends right in.

Often moving quickly in flocks, Dark-eyed Juncos aren’t as easy to capture as they ought to be.

It’s still nice to see Northern Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees. I see them more often than not.

I will be back with a little New Year’s Eve visit this morning that was short on birds but good to do anyway seeing as how we are under a winter storm watch that starts early tomorrow morning. Predictions are for a lot of snow, and I have no intention of driving anywhere in it. Maybe I can capture some of the birds in the yard in between snow shoveling shifts.

Best wishes and hopes to all for 2022. I will be celebrating by taking down all my 2021 calendars…

Christmas Week at the Portage – Part I

This series of photos is from December 23. I went back on the 26th and will share those photos in a separate post. The weather has since turned a bit more wintry. I decided not to go out today due to early cloud cover and mostly mud – I am getting a bit tired of cleaning the treads of my boots. But I also have so much to do at home that I kept putting off “until I retire” or “until winter” and since I am in both those places, I need to get going on the 20-years-of-accumulated-stuff project.

The sky was dramatic at first but brightened up ever so slightly. There are new piles of chopped wood here and there along the trails. I can only imagine the volunteers were taking care of fallen or about-to-fall trees.

At first this White-breasted Nuthatch was hard to uncover but he came out and made himself known eventually.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been more abundant than I remember, but it could just be that for the sake of getting out more, I have become more attuned to their comings and goings. I was delighted to find the flight sequence in my photos, which I put into the carousel below.