Riverside Wrens and Friends

I returned to Riverside Monday morning, after my previous visit last Wednesday. The weather was sunnier on Wednesday than Monday. But on Wednesday, I heard and then saw a Winter Wren, and even managed to get some photographs of it. Which is more than I got this past Monday when I had even better looks at the Winter Wren, but that’s another story.

Since this is a long and somewhat complicated post, I think I’ll revert to chronological order. Below is what the Des Plaines River looked like last Wednesday, for starters. The water level was a little bit higher than it was Monday.

In the raptor department, there was a distant, perched Cooper’s Hawk with its back to me.

American Goldfinches are still seen here and there.

I can remember complaining the last few years about never getting a photograph of a Dark-eyed Junco. Now I have way too many of them.

In good light, Downy Woodpeckers can be good subjects.

The sky was almost too blue a background for this White-breasted Nuthatch.

Shortly after I crossed the footbridge to Riverside Lawn, I had my Winter Wren encounter. The wren was at some distance but on a sunny day I was able to capture it cavorting around.

Perhaps the only bird the sun did not treat well that day was this female Northern Cardinal.

When I returned on Monday, it was cloudy.

Des Plaines River

And the river was low again, with many places for Canada Geese to stand in.

I caught a flurry of Rock Pigeons around the Hofmann Tower, but there was no accompanying raptor so I don’t know what caused them to go into flight drills.

Two Dark-eyed Juncos are below, with a White-throated Sparrow in the middle. Unfortunately they were backlit but I because haven’t seen very many White-throated Sparrows this fall I am including it.

Off Riverside’s paved trail, I found this Red-bellied Woodpecker busily inspecting a stump.

When I got over to Riverside Lawn, it wasn’t long before I realized that another tree had fallen and the trail, such as it is, was now totally obscured and not exactly passable. Before trying to decide how I was going to go around all this mess, I decided to just sit on the first fallen tree that I had been negotiating easily for about almost a month.

Almost simultaneously, the flock appeared. I suspect they were intrigued by the newly fallen log as well. Of course there were Dark-eyed Juncos.

A Downy Woodpecker was present.

For comparison, I was also lucky to see a Hairy Woodpecker.

A couple incidental photos from Riverside Lawn…I think before I sat down on the log.

Some tree fungus
Northern Cardinal male

While I sat on the log, the Winter Wren came in and was so close I could not photograph it with my big lens. Below is the only image of the Winter Wren I managed to capture on Monday.

But soon after that, a Carolina Wren arrived and perched on a stump a short distance directly in front of me and I complied with its request to be photographed. It’s also at the top of the post.

There were also a couple White-breasted Nuthatches not too far away. Directly below is a male, and the bird in the gallery beneath it is a female.

This is the time of year when Red-bellied Woodpeckers stand out against the drab, leafless trees. And this one was no exception.

Sometimes I manage to focus on a busy Black-capped Chickadee.

More snaps of the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I have managed to find a way to walk around the new obstacle although I am not sure how easy it will be later, in snow and ice.

The most astounding thing Monday occurred hours later on my way home from the pool. I was approaching a busy intersection at 37th and Harlem when I saw a Bald Eagle rise up from behind a strip mall and fly right over my car, and then there was a smaller raptor chasing after it. I suspect they both may have been attracted to some prey which I never saw. I got through the intersection, pulled into a gas station and pulled out the camera.

The smaller raptor turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon. The two birds chased around for what seemed like a few minutes, and then the Bald Eagle eventually headed south, after the Peregrine gave up the chase and sat on top of a utility pole. It’s something to consider, that both these species were endangered not all that long ago and now there are enough of them to spill over into the suburban sprawl.

So it’s been quite a week for raptor action with this going on Monday morning and then the Red-tailed Hawk rescue on Tuesday. Yesterday and today were much quieter mornings. Tomorrow we are due for rain mixed with snow so I won’t be going for a walk but if I can drive, I will go for my swim in the middle of the day.

I’ll try to be back soon with some earlier encounters. Next week will be busy with choir singing and the Christmas Bird Count on the 17th, so blogging may have to wait for a while. ‘Tis the season.

Portage Peregrine

I didn’t go for a walk yesterday, as much as I wanted to go back to the Chicago Portage. The sky was gloomy and threatening rain which we never got. But more than that, I didn’t want to lose my parking space because of the holiday, and I had so much cooking to do I figured the only way I would have enough energy to get it all done was to stay home.

But two days earlier, on Tuesday morning when I got to the Chicago Portage, the first bird I saw was a Peregrine Falcon, perched on a tree overlooking the frozen stream, eating its breakfast.

I got a smidgen closer and started taking more photographs.

I started to feel a bit sorry for the falcon having to deal with me while otherwise obviously enjoying its meal, but I couldn’t help myself.

Needless to say I took too many photographs, so here are some more.

Only a bright red bird could distract me momentarily.

Here’s what the Portage looked like that morning from the bridge. The water was frozen, so there were no ducks or geese.

A couple Dark-eyed Juncos stuck around almost long enough for a photo or two.

Two Mallards flew over but kept going. I guess they weren’t tempted by the ice.

But then a Great Blue Heron flew over.

And a little while later, I found it sitting behind where I was on the trail, by the frozen stream.

I crossed the second bridge.

There were sparrows at this point.

Fox Sparrow

I saw more American Tree Sparrows than any other species.

And one more Fox Sparrow.

Here are a couple more photos of the Peregrine Falcon dining.

A Red-tailed Hawk flew over a couple times. I was barely able to capture it the second time around.

One more surreptitious view of the Great Blue Heron.

So you never know what you will see these days at the Chicago Portage as we head into winter. The most amazing thing to me was that the Peregrine Falcon was present practically the entire two hours and twenty-five minutes I was there. I had some more distant photos of it as it moved around, but then snuck up behind it going back down the inside trail for the photo which is at the top of the post. Here’s one more from that viewpoint just for good measure.

I hope your holidays are going well. I’m looking forward to seeing how many different combinations of leftovers I can come up with through the next few weeks.

Summer Surprises at the Chicago Portage

I began writing this post while I was sitting here with the sun pouring through the half-closed slats of the blinds, the curse of facing east in the morning, artificially cooled by the fans and air conditioning going more often than I’d like to maintain an inside temperature of 80 degrees. I paid the Chicago Portage a visit Monday and before that on Saturday, when the morning temperatures were much cooler, but decided to stay home yesterday, worked in the yard for brief periods, and gave my recuperating knee a rest. At least I have shade in the backyard. We are in the middle of a hot, dry spell again. The later-week predictions of rain have disappeared.

Oh – that beautiful male Eastern Towhee at the top of the post – I encountered him briefly right off the trail. It’s the second time I’ve seen him in the past couple weeks.

Monday as I was putting my camera and backpack in the hatch of the car, I looked up to see a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird first check the front yard, then zip over to the feeder on the porch and then over the roof toward the backyard where there are three more feeders. I haven’t seen a hummingbird for weeks, maybe months. That proved to be a good sign. When I got to the first bridge at the Portage, although very distant and the photos below are severely cropped, I did see a male Ruby-throat, perched on a dead tree over the water from where I stood.

I hoped to see a hummingbird again, perhaps in the Red Bee Balm that is in bloom, but did not.

Red Bee Balm at the Portage

After the hummingbird left, I spotted one American Goldfinch on the same tree.

Whereas on Saturday, I spotted five distant American Goldfinches trying to brighten up the gloom.

Monday was bright and sunshiny with most birds still at a distance. An American Robin and a Red-bellied Woodpecker share this frame.

The Prairie Coneflower, below left, is starting to bloom. It’s one of my favorites at the Portage. I still haven’t figured out the other yellow flower.

There are a lot of American Robins here even when you don’t see them. Below are two juveniles. The second photograph, taken in the mulberry tree, indicates the berries aren’t quite ready yet. I expect when they are ripe, flocks of Cedar Waxwings will join the Robins.

Here’s a Robin I managed to follow as it decided what to do with its catch.

There are quite a few Blue-fronted Dancer damselflies. I wish this one had chosen a better-looking place to rest.

I was intrigued by the new growth starting from a long-dead fragment of log poking out from the bottomlands through the fence.

Here’s what it looked like after the rain, back there on Sunday. I’m sure it’s all dried out now.

Sunday was not a great day to photograph Indigo Buntings but this one picked an interesting perch.

As a contrast, there was too much light on Monday.

The brightness did justice to two butterflies, a Silver-spotted Skipper and a Red Admiral.

I was surprised to see what had been an iconic dead tree by the second, or northernmost bridge, broken in half as it was a magnet for nesting Northern Flickers. I could not locate what happened to the rest of it.

The most interesting bird on Saturday was a Peregrine Falcon perched at quite a distance from where I stood across the water. When I got a bit closer to it, it fixed its gaze on me. Alas we grew bored with each other and I was looking elsewhere when it finally took off, missing a flight shot.

On Monday one Pearl Crescent became two.

I felt lucky to see an Eastern Wood-Pewee as I usually only hear him, but I didn’t manage to get him in great focus. Oh well.

Tadziu was on territory Monday.

I haven’t been able to find a Red-winged Blackbird anywhere at the Portage although I know they exist. So I had to settle Monday for a female Brown-headed Cowbird as a substitute blackbird.

A bucolic young rabbit with a couple Robins on the path.

Early Monday I encountered a very young deer.

It looks like the Elderberry is going to have ripe fruit soon too. Let the fun begin. I have just planted one of these in my backyard and I expect it won’t produce fruit for a while but I look forward to watching it grow.

A view of Tadziu’s bridge through the trees.

There is simply a lot of Tall Bellflower in bloom here.

One more of the Peregrine Falcon.

I’m not going out walking every day in this heat – more like every other day or so. There’s plenty to do around the house and in the yard. And there is that book. I had a revelation the other day while I was swimming, I think. Water has always inspired me, even doing dishes over the sink. That and sometimes while I’m playing piano for the birds. Anyway I think I fit some puzzle pieces together in my head so I am going to write a synopsis tonight and tomorrow which will give me a roadmap.

More to come. Still trying to fill up these longer days while we have them.

Raptorous Encounters

A pair of Bald Eagles at the Portage

It never fails, when I have no expectations of seeing anything unusual, something unexpected occurs. It began last Saturday morning when I decided to visit the Portage. I was on my way out the last leg of the trail when I encountered a perched Bald Eagle. And then a moment or two later, his mate appeared. I took way too many pictures, never having an unobstructed angle, and the birds were distant, but their immense size made up for the lack of proximity.

It also seems no matter how hard I try, I can’t manage a timely blog post. But before I belabor that point, I promise this will be short.

There’s always a bit of a let-down in the fall with the shorter days and colder weather, but the colder months bring a whole new perspective to birding and once you figure out how to stay warm enough, it’s the perfect cure for cabin fever.

When the eagles finally took off they flew north toward Ottawa Trail. I suspect they have a nesting spot somewhere or were shopping for one. I hope to see one or both of them again soon.

Also at the Portage when I first arrived, were two Red-Tailed Hawks, ushered in by Ten Crows. I have never seen so many crows at the Portage. Likely the hawks got their attention and drew them in. But I didn’t even know there were Ten Crows in the vicinity. A Mini Murder.

Ten Crows at the Portage

As it turned out, only one hawk remained to soar around for quite a while, at a reasonable distance for a few photographs. The light was poor but the flight was skillful.

On Sunday morning I went downtown to visit the Lakefront Crows and had a couple raptorous moments there too. Like this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk…and then a Peregrine Falcon.

I will return with a full report on the Lakefront Crows and other recent avian encounters. The pressure of fall passerine migration has been replaced by encroaching holiday commitments. We always seem to be in a hurry. As we rush toward the end of the year… I hope you are finding some moments of peace.

The Falcon Returns – Life and Death on the 46th Floor

Mbres360 IMG_7289

Whatever post I had been envisioning to be cobbled from birding the last two weekends or downtown forays during the week has been usurped by Mbres360, the young Peregrine Falcon from my last post.


This morning began very birdy up on the 46th floor. My coworkers drew my attention to a female Golden-Shafted Flicker that had apparently struck the building. She was lying right outside the window on the balcony or ledge down the hall from my office. She looked perfect, except that she was dead. I don’t have it in me to photograph a dead bird; it seems somehow disrespectful. Yet I would volunteer to get her to the Field Museum, where she might be gutted and stuffed. They would do so respectfully, and keep track of her death in their records. If there was a way to get the building maintenance to open the window, I wanted to deliver the Flicker to the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors and the Field Museum. I ran back to my office and that’s when Kim called to me and said, “Lisa, he’s back.”

Mbres360 IMG_7279

Mbres360 was indeed back. The closer pictures are shot unfortunately through blinds, but still it was easy to see his bands and confirm his identity. He seems to have taken a liking to our rookery-like tower. And he looks bigger and more ferocious than last week.

Mbres360 IMG_7290

After I took these pictures, the Flicker Drama was continuing. I ran back to the other balcony where the maintenance guys had just removed the Flicker into a black plastic bag and it seemed inevitable they would throw it in the trash. Leslie, our office manager, put in a call to the management office to ask them to hold the Flicker until a collision monitor could pick it up. I called Bird Collision Monitors and asked them to introduce themselves to building security; and then the Flicker should be turned over to them. I never heard back, so all I can hope is that they were able to rescue the Flicker from a dumpster burial.

When I went back to Kim’s office the falcon was gone, but Kim said he was after a smaller bird that had also disappeared. Mbres360 has probably figured out he can get an easy meal by looking for stunned birds colliding with our building. He would not be interested in a dead bird, however. Personally I wish him luck, because it seemed way too much trouble to remove the Flicker for an uncertain outcome. I shudder to think what it would have been like to try to rescue a bird that was still alive under those circumstances. Not that I wouldn’t try…

Mbres360 IMG_7287

Falcon on the 46th Floor

Peregrine IMG_7107

Meet “Mbres360.” I’m not sure how to pronounce his name or what it stands for, but he paid the office a visit yesterday afternoon by landing on the ledge outside the conference room, and I am still savoring the opportunity, seeing one of these birds up close.

I did not want to startle him by going through the conference room doors. Luckily Kim was in her office which also has a view of the ledge, and when I told her the bird was right outside her window, she invited me in to take pictures. I ran to get the camera, afraid I might miss the opportunity because I had put it away, but I guess the bird was as curious as we were, because he waited for me to get my act together and I took a few shots.

Peregrine IMG_7104

Then I went looking on the Internet for where to report him and see if maybe he could be identified. In less than a minute I found Stephanie Ware’s wonderful Chicago Peregrine Falcon Blog. I followed her instructions and sent her pictures and a closeup of the bands which I read as Red N and Green 53.

53 N Peregrine IMG_7104

Stephanie graciously wrote me back to tell me the bird was was a male chick “from this year’s river nest” and then she identified him by name.

I’m always looking out the windows to see who is flying by, which is probably why I’ll never get an office with a window. I have seen Peregrines on several occasions, but I never dreamed one would visit like this. Considering the Chicago Peregrines are born and raised in an urban environment, with nests on top of skyscrapers, I guess it’s not that unlikely. But this felt very special. The sighting made my week, for sure. And led me to Stephanie’s wonderful blog, so I can learn more about these beautiful birds.

Peregrine IMG_7110

After I had taken maybe five pictures, he decided he’d had enough and with a little shriek, he literally disappeared into thin air. I guess that is the magic of the entire encounter. Once these birds fledge they start honing their incredible speed which makes them such formidable predators. It’s hard to think of Mbres360 as a tough guy just yet.