Water Returns to McGinnis Slough

This will be brief. I went to McGinnis Slough last Sunday to see if maybe I might be present when some Sandhill Cranes were flying over, or just in general to see what the water levels were like. All the rain had made a difference. Where there was no water to be seen before, now the slough looks like a slough again.

No Sandhills flew over. Indeed, not much was flying.

I saw my last Yellow-rumped Warblers of the season.

Red-winged Blackbirds linger.

I’m always happy to see a Pied-billed Grebe.

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A Northern Cardinal blended in well with the leaves turning red.

This Song Sparrow wasn’t interested.

It was best to see water again.

For the most part, there were perhaps 200 American Coots scattered all over the slough. They were quite distant, however.

I’m running out of room on the hard drive again so I will be back soon with lots more.

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

My Reward for Taking Too Many Pictures

I went to the Riverside trail on October 15. It was extremely cloudy and I had no idea what I could muster photographically under such conditions. I walked as far as I was going to go in one direction along the river and then turned back, and found a very green-looking warbler foraging low in front of me. When I got home to review my photographs, I could not for the life of me figure out what it was. I could only surmise what it wasn’t. The pale-looking eyebrow, the darker green primaries didn’t fit the Orange-crowned Warblers I was used to seeing.

After a good night’s sleep it occurred to me that perhaps the way to approach the bird’s identity was to look closely at the bill shape and size. Color and feather arrangement might seem changeable in a photograph but the bill shape would be constant. And that led me to thinking this was a Mourning Warbler.

As it turned out, when I opened my copy of The Warbler Guide, I found one small photograph that exactly matched my bird. She is a first-year female Mourning Warbler. I was excited as it has been years since I’ve seen a Mourning Warbler altogether. I added some of my photos to my ebird report and made the email-generated Cook County Rare Bird Alert (“RBA”) – I guess she’s a little late making her way south.

A distant Northern Flicker accented the cloudy background.

I have really become familiar with Orange-crowned Warblers this fall. And while I’m looking at bill size and shape, this species has a distinctly small, sharply-pointed bill. Some photos of an Orange-crowned Warbler are below.

For comparison, below are some more photographs of the Mourning Warbler.

Fall is a good time for woodpeckers.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Orange-crowned Warbler

Fall is also a good time for squirrels and nuts…

A cloudy sky.

I have really enjoyed seeing Great Blue Herons here.

And Great Egrets were present too.

Only Mallards are showing up in the waterfowl department.

There are always some Northern Cardinals but this was not a good day to capture one.

The other bird that made the RBA was the Gray-cheeked Thrush below.

Golden-crowned Kinglets have been fun to follow the past couple weeks.

A fall tangle of leaves.

The river looks a little fuller than it did. I envision being unable to do this trail when we start getting a lot of rain…

Here are a few more photographs of the Orange-crowned Warbler who was my best model.

Below is a female House Finch.

I thought the Great Blue Heron against the clouds was worth capturing.

One more of a Northern Flicker…

I have been back to the Riverside trail twice since this cloudy day. We are finally starting to cool off. This morning the Great Egrets were all gone. To be continued… but now, I need to get ready for choir rehearsal.

Two Visits to an Old New Place

Thanks to a dog walker I met twice last week… I visited a new-for-me place which has been in my backyard, so to speak, all along. I had been meaning to check out the Riverwalk on the Lyons side of the Des Plaines but never realized the other side had a park along the river called Indian Gardens. Many thanks to Ken the architect from Riverside who told me about it. It’s actually closer to home than the Portage, even, by about a couple minutes.

These pictures are from two days’ visits. I parked on the Lyons side and then walked across the bridge and through the Indian Gardens park. I didn’t venture past the tennis courts the first day, but on the second day I walked through them and found where there is an “unmanaged” trail along the river where I will be going more often.

The Lyons side has a fantastic Hoffman Tower which provides a place to hang out for a sizable number of feral pigeons. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a flock of pigeons in flight for quite some time.

Walking through Indian Gardens

Blue Jays seem to be everywhere lately. They’re carrying on noisily and are even sometimes visible.

Time to get your fill of Magnolia Warbler photographs because I just barely saw one the last couple days – I think they have moved on, after dominating the warbler migration scene for two weeks. You can click on any of these pictures to get a better view.

Monarch Butterflies are still migrating here and there.

There are a lot of Northern Cardinals at this location, but they are more often heard than seen. I did manage to capture a few females, though. I’ve never seen one capture an insect – it looks like a grasshopper. And then the one perched in a tree with its leaves already turning – she nearly blends in.

It’s absolutely wonderful to see the Great Egrets – even if it’s mainly due to the fact that we haven’t had any substantive rain for at least a couple weeks and it’s been hot, so the middle of the Des Plaines River is very low – perfect for waders.

There were 4 Great Egrets on my last visit – only 3 visible in this photograph

Gray Catbirds have evaded my lens nearly all summer and now they are getting bolder as they prepare to fly south. The young bird amongst all the dead leaves was right at my feet on the Lyons side.

Canada Geese are moving around and I always love to see them in flight.

Not as many Great Blue Herons as Great Egrets but they are also taking advantage of the shallow river.

On occasion, a Double-Crested Cormorant. Since they are divers, I can’t imagine this bird was too happy with the shallow water situation.

European Starlings are not in huge flocks like they were several years ago. Here’s a few staked out on a dead tree.

I was delighted to see a Belted Kingfisher fly by noisily on my second visit, as I crossed the bridge.

A sneaky closer view of this Great Egret.

Below is a busy Blackpoll Warbler, blending in with the leaves.

Blackpoll Warbler
An American Robin – I liked its perch choice

I saw the Osprey on both visits. On my second visit, just as I discovered the access point to the trail closer to the river, I inadvertently disturbed the Osprey – it was perched in a large tree right past the trail head, until I approached – so I will be more careful to look for it before I venture forth next time. The bird flew across the river to perch on the tree below. It was quite something to have a bird with a 63″ wingspan take off right over my head.

I was happy to find a Canada Warbler and took advantage of its willingness to stick around for several shots, albeit at a distance. This looks like a first year bird, with a faint necklace.