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.

Swainson’s Thrush

I was trying to capture the Gray-Cheeked Thrush below and was photo-bombed by a Magnolia Warbler.

I thought it would be easy to combine all these photos into one post but it seems I have overshot my limit again.

Many more photos to come – if I can keep up with it. I have to get used to my new routine, while it lasts anyway. I have a feeling I will be delving into the archives over the winter months playing catch-up. This morning started off cool and cloudy at Columbus Park where we had a scheduled walk. We didn’t see very many birds and those that we did were not easy to capture in low light. I feel like I’ve been given the rest of the morning off to finish this post.

Hot and Dry at the Portage

If my memory serves me correctly, last year we were complaining of too much rain. I remember the tall plants in my backyard towering over everything and wondering if perhaps I should have discouraged them earlier. As it turns out, the tall plants seem to be growing up just as much without rain, but I am in no mood to discourage anything.

Anyway, Saturday I went to the Portage early and encountered John as I pulled into the parking lot. He leads discussions and walks on Saturdays at 10:00 AM regarding the history of the place. He had arrived early, said he was getting into birding but had forgotten his binoculars and wanted to know if he could tag along with me. We had a good time talking and walking along the trail, and he told me the history of the early explorers and how the Des Plaines River was diverted to feed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. So initially the little bit of water now left to the Portage is part of the original Des Plaines River bed, but nothing feeds it except rain. With that knowledge I am amazed that when I first started coming here, there was enough water to support herons feeding and even a pair of Green Herons nesting. I haven’t seen the Green Herons here for several years now.

This year there doesn’t seem to be water to make it buggy enough to support Eastern Phoebes or Eastern Kingbirds like last year. We do have Eastern Wood-Pewees and Great Crested Flycatchers.

When John and I started up the trail we encountered that large painted turtle featured at the head of this post, on the gravel path. I wonder if it was a female looking for a place to lay her eggs. There haven’t been many turtles visible this year. The drought is affecting them as well.

But then we saw an Eastern Wood-Pewee, who even sang for us. I love these little guys – I often hear them clear across the woods but don’t always see them.

While we paused on the back trail on the other side of the fence, an Osprey flew over.

I was able to show John my most reliable Indigo Bunting whose territory is on the East side of the North bridge. The bunting was happy to pose and sing for us. A recording of his song is below the photos.

John had to leave to get ready for his tour/talk so we parted ways. I will have to attend one of his presentations. I confess I used avoid the Portage on Saturday mornings because of all the extra people, but now I’ve gotten used to it after the pandemic brought in a lot of new visitors.

I continued along the trail in the direction I usually take. The rest of these photos are not in order but they are the only birds I was able to capture. Below is a Red-Belled Woodpecker on the dark side of an oak tree.

I caught this Northern Flicker inspecting a nest hole.

Whatever you may think of Brown-headed Cowbirds, they can still be attractive.

Below is the first butterfly I have seen except for a Monarch here and there. It’s a Skipper, but I haven’t been able to identify it precisely. It was very tiny.

There was a Bald Eagle flying over.

There were very few swallows – this was the only Tree Swallow I saw.

Even the Red-winged Blackbirds were lying low.

I sat on the bench by the parking lot before returning to my car and caught this male Baltimore Oriole foraging around in the low trees at the edge of the lawn.

I decided to forego birding again on Sunday morning and opted to do a little yard work in anticipation of more to come. The Berwyn Historical Society this year decided to start an annual garden walk event on June 19, and my crazy garden, a/k/a postage-stamp-sized wildlife refuge, has been selected. The idea was pandemic-inspired because normally the BHS would be offering a bungalow tour, but since that wasn’t possible, the idea for an outdoor event occurred. My front yard still appears somewhat organized even though its creator, who has since passed, would likely have issues with all the Common Milkweed and other aggressors overtaking his original plan. It was just my luck that a Monarch visited the milkweed a week and a half ago and seemed to be laying eggs so I don’t dare remove any of it. I also have discovered some new visitors, such as Narrow-leafed Blue-eyed Grass.

My backyard is a small forest with a lot of native plants and grasses that need more control than I have been able to do. I am taking the week off before the walk to make as much sense out of it as I can and also to make sure I can identify everything – or almost everything – that’s growing. I have stopped feeding the birds and squirrels, except for the occasional hummingbird or oriole that might stop by, so the rat control project can succeed. The only thing I have to contend with is weather and stamina. So working in the yard is what I am looking forward to next week.

In the meantime I hope to be back with some pictures from previous outings this spring.

McGinnis Magic

There wasn’t an awful lot going on at McGinnis on my last visit, but the sight of two Sandhill Cranes foraging in the lawn right off the parking lot automatically made it a special day.

I guess McGinnis is always good for a Great Blue Heron or two. But I’m surprised I haven’t seen any Great Egrets lately.

It’s really dry..

Not a lot of swallows that day but I managed to capture this Tree Swallow.

Not sure I have seen these Irises here before. Nice.

This Song Sparrow was almost completely hidden. We compromised.

Common Grackles are here and there.

Perhaps the second nicest surprise was to see a first-year male Orchard Oriole right before I left.

The lack of light didn’t offer much contrast with these raptors flying overhead.

While I was kind of hoping to see a colt or two with the Sandhills, which I never have here, I did see two Canada Geese in the same spot as the Sandhills were earlier – and they were carefully watching one lone gosling.

Providing additional interest, a Red-Winged Blackbird trying to make sense of a piece of ice cream cone.

I am always impressed by a Robin taking a pose.

I haven’t been able to think about much besides work lately. That – and the burrowing rats in my yard. I just removed all the feeders except for the hummingbird and oriole feeders – for 10 days. The city has provided an exterminator to discourage the rats, and I can only hope for elimination as up until the pandemic, they were never around. But adding insult to injury is the drought. I take it personally, I don’t know why – but the thought of weather like Phoenix, Arizona has never been attractive to me. Nothing against anyone who loves hot, dry weather. It has its place. But not here.

Thanks for letting me rant. I do have more cheerful posts in store and what should be a fun event I will share with you in the next few weeks.

Sounds of Spring

On that warm weekend nearly three weeks ago – I write this as we chill again after a bit of April Snow yesterday morning and into freezing overnight – I went to McGinnis Slough for a few birds and was greeted by a lot of singing in the sunshine. Thankfully, there was not a lot of traffic noise from LaGrange Road. The primary contributors to the recording are Red-Winged Blackbird males.

Birdsong at McGinnis Slough

This time I got to see one of the Sandhill Cranes that I missed the weekend before. I have to wonder if they are nesting there…

No shortage of Red-Winged Blackbirds showing off.

And not showing off…

A male Wood Duck managed to swim by my lens.

Northern Cardinals didn’t offer many looks, but I managed to add these two for the record.

The iridescence of this Common Grackle’s neck caught my eye first.

This was the best I could do for a Song Sparrow, even though I heard a few singing. The song of one is below the picture.

Song Sparrow

This view overlooking a part of the slough perhaps conveys the feeling evoked by the toad chorus below it.

American Toads, I think

Never at a loss for American Coots this time of year. But I was most impressed with the one standing on a log poking out of the water, preening and showing off its pretty green legs.

Mallards… one hen very comfortable in her chosen spot.

It wouldn’t be an authentic visit to the Slough without a Great Blue Heron flying somewhere.

I was excited to see an Osprey, however briefly.

One male Blue-Winged Teal was close enough to capture.

Perhaps my most thrilling bird sighting that day was this lone Tree Swallow. It was actually warm enough for it to catch bugs in the air.