As fall migration has waned and winter’s grip descends, searching for birds takes on a different cadence. Maybe in the cold you could use to walk a little faster, but then you might miss that brief view of the only bird you will have seen for the last five minutes.
These photos are from three walks along the Des Plaines River on November 9, 11 and 14. The 14th was the only morning with a little sunshine, so those gray skies are quite real. The 9th was the last time I saw the Great Blue Heron and not all that well.
Mallards predominate, predictably. The drakes’ deep green heads gleam in sunshine. Or even in cloud cover.
There were two Red-bellied Woodpeckers interacting on the 9th and one showed off its red belly.
This is the Des Plaines River looking north from the Joliet Avenue bridge, with a low water level, framed in the filigree of tree branches that have lost their leaves.
I guess the Golden-crowned Kinglets were easier to see without leaves in the way.
It’s also deer season again.
Dark-eyed Juncos are abundant but not always easy to photograph, especially being gray birds on gray days.
Of course there are plenty of Canada Geese too. This group must have attracted my attention as they stood in the river looking as if they were trying to figure out where to go next. I also liked the lone goose taking a one-footed nap with one eye open on me.
Here’s a sunnier look to the south from the Joliet Avenue bridge.
After crossing the foot bridge on Monday the 14th, I caught a brief look at a Carolina Wren.
I also had a Song Sparrow perched for a moment.
American Goldfinches are still busy eating all they can before they start relying on my backyard feeders. I look forward to them giving the House Sparrows a little competition.
I was surprised to see an Eastern Bluebird on the Riverside Lawn side. I don’t know why I can’t decide on just one photo. Probably because I took too many of them.
Here’s what the trail looked like on Monday. Not quite barren yet. And I have passed by that fallen log a million times without looking at it very closely. I suppose with less distraction the landmarks will become more evident.
I have chosen to stay in this morning. There may be a light freezing drizzle. The previously predicted snow is not exactly happening, now described as a “wintry mix.” I’ll go for a swim midday when I perceive the pool to be less crowded. Then I need to practice the line dance before tonight’s choir rehearsal. It’s just one of those days. I’ll get back to wandering around with the camera tomorrow.
There has been a Lesser Scaup at the Chicago Portage for over a week. I first saw him on March 4 and have seen him on every visit since, including this morning. He seems to be content to hang out and has managed to evade predation. I find him an irresistible subject, even if most of the time he is somewhat far away.
This is a rather long post encapsulating what transpired on my walks at the Portage on the 4th, the 8th and the 10th of March. Immediately below are more photos of the Lesser Scaup from March 4 when I first discovered him.
The 4th was the first time I heard and saw male Red-winged Blackbirds here.
European Starlings are usually way at the top of the trees across the stream from where I am standing, but these two surprised me by being on my side for a change.
Robins are starting to return to the Portage and my neighborhood. They just started singing.
There wasn’t a lot happening on March 4, but it was a sunny day at least.
This young deer was too close and fearless.
Then on March 8, things were a bit more interesting. It started with Downy Woodpeckers chasing around.
I hadn’t gone too far before I saw what I believe to be the local pair of Bald Eagles perched on the electric utility structure. I can’t remember the last time I saw them here but it seems like at least two years.
When I got a bit closer, there was only one eagle perched. I then saw the other flying close by.
It was a beautiful morning.
I kept taking photos of this Red-winged Blackbird as he sang. I don’t know why I have them all here, he didn’t change his position much. But you can hear what he sounded like below.
Song Sparrows could be seen foraging on the ground near the trail.
The Lesser Scaup was present.
On my way out, I encountered three young, lost-looking deer.
And then out on the front lawn, a dead doe that had been ravaged by some beast, likely a coyote. I suspect it was the parent of the three youngsters. I decided to spare you the gorier photos on my cell phone.
As I walked to my car I encountered two Cook County Forest Preserves workers who had come to investigate and clean up. When I drove by about twenty minutes later after running an errand close by, the lawn had been cleared of the carcass.
I began making a connection in my mind between the feeding of the deer and this terrible incident and decided to talk to the man who has been distributing peanuts the next time I saw him.
So I went back to the Portage on March 10. It was a cloudy day and pretty cold.
Sometimes an American Robin will just stare me down.
The Lesser Scaup was still there.
The views that always catch my eye, looking pretty much the same two days later.
An adult Bald Eagle flew over in the distance.
Everybody was down on the ground looking for food, including two White-breasted Nuthatches. I think the one on the tree is a female and the one on the path the male. I wonder if he was going after what looked to me like part of a peanut on the trail.
I was still able to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker.
And a distant Common Merganser was in the Des Plaines River when I walked through the hole in the fence for a quick look.
There’s a grassy area that leads to the parking lot straight off the trail, but I rarely walk through there. I stood and watched from a distance as several American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows foraged. The American Tree Sparrows are directly below.
And here are some Song Sparrows.
For a direct comparison, below is an American Tree Sparrow on the left and two Song Sparrows. Whenever I start to confuse Song Sparrows with other streaky sparrows, I always look for the noticeable dark malar which is in the cheek-throat area.
Squirrels don’t often tempt me to photograph them but this one was available, so I did.
On the way out, the orphans again seemed too close.
One more of the singing Red-winged Blackbird.
As it happens, I did run into the man feeding wildlife on March 10, and talked with him. He did not appear to be feeding at that moment, his hands were in his jacket pockets. He said he was aware of the rules and that once even the Forest Preserve police said to him, “You’re not feeding wildlife, are you? Because if you are I will give you a ticket.” Obviously that didn’t stop him. In fact, he told me he was the one who called the police about the dead doe. He also told me that she had had a broken leg, which he surmised may have been from an automobile encounter. I told him that he wasn’t helping the deer but in fact might be harming them as they have lost their wariness of humans and perhaps other dangers. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said he was only feeding for the next couple weeks, it was going to warm up and they would have new growth to eat. Plus he was running out of peanuts. He also went off on some inane tangent about there being too many deer and wondered if “they” cull them.
So there doesn’t seem to be much one can do about him. If I see a Forest Preserve police I can approach, I will talk try to ask about it, just to enquire, but I suspect they don’t seem to think there’s anything they can do either. The police do not stay long at any location but move around from one to the next, and I don’t think they are interested in sitting around waiting for the peanut feedr to give him a ticket.
My mother always used to call March the Adolescent Month. She must have been referring to the weather. It’s as if it is on the cusp of indecision – stay in winter or grow up into spring.
I went to Riverside on March 2 which was on the beginning of a brief warm front, and then back again on March 9. On the first visit it wasn’t particularly warm in the morning, but the winds were blowing from the south. I saw the Eastern Bluebird briefly.
There’s nearly always a Black-capped Chickadee somewhere. This one was close enough to photograph.
The sky wasn’t too encouraging.
This Blue Jay tolerated me long enough to focus on those few parts of him that weren’t obscured.
Waterfowl are here and there now, the large groups of Canada Geese and Mallards have dispersed. Below is a female Common Merganser.
With the strong shift in winds from the south, Sandhill Cranes were taking advantage of a free ride. I saw the larger flock when I came back to my car in the health club parking lot after swimming the same day.
When I went back on March 9, the skies were clearer but the temperature was colder.
This Red-bellied Woodpecker was showing off against the blue sky background.
I took note of a River Birch tree. There are several on the Riverside side by the paved trail. The bark fascinates me. They are logical trees for a flood plain.
The foot bridge was clear and clean-looking that day.
Here’s another Red-bellied Woodpecker on the Riverside Lawn side of the river.
My biggest treat this past Wednesday was the Song Sparrow singing, below. It took me a little while to locate him but he was facing me, singing away, when I did. After taking his picture and recording his song, he starting singing a different song, which I also recorded. You can hear both songs below the photographs. I have never witnessed this before. I know Song Sparrows have a reputation for singing a lot of songs but I don’t believe I have never heard the same bird sing two distinct songs. It’s as if he knew he had a good audience. It also reminds me of the Shanahan New Yorker cartoon below, which is my favorite cartoon as it seems to sum up my life.
Mr. and Ms. Mallard were elegant on the water.
The clear blue sky provided a perfect backdrop for an adult Bald Eagle as well.
When I got back to my parking spot I was greeted by a Canada Goose standing on one foot.
But before I could get into my car, two Red-tailed Hawks started flying over, showing off. I didn’t manage to get them both in the same frame but a small sampling of the many photographs I took is below.
The last and most distant capture was of this hawk’s back against the sun.
Spring continues to push forward. We had some snow last night but it was a minimal accumulation. Even though it’s quite cold, the sun has by now removed all the snow from the sidewalks. As much as I am tempted to wonder what is the meaning of life these days, it seems to make as much sense, if not more, to just take note of as much of it as I can.
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.
I couldn’t stay inside another day, so I went to the Portage yesterday morning, armed with my walking stick but braving the sunshine without long underwear or my warmest hat. It was still cold, and there was plenty of ice, but the sun was shining so brightly it demanded my attention.
With the exception of the Northern Cardinal at the top of the post, and some Canada Geese flying overhead, there were no birds available for photographs until I was almost done with my walk. Due to the ice cover I decided not to do the inner trail on the opposite side of the pond. I wasn’t hearing any birds so I probably didn’t miss much.
I took a lot of pictures of snow and ice. This will all turn to mud today and fresh snow will cover it tomorrow.
As I headed toward the last part of my walk, I heard the Red-bellied Woodpecker calling, and then a couple Black-capped Chickadees joined him. A pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches also appeared. We had a nice visit. This Red-bellied Woodpecker likes to get his picture taken and I can’t help but oblige.
There was a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches. First I saw the male, and then the female.
The chickadees have not been engaging with the camera lately. I suspect all their food sources are higher up in the trees.
But there was a Grey Squirrel who was curious.
When I got home, the only bird in my yard that I could see was this Mourning Dove.
I kept looking outside and not seeing any birds in the yard. I decided around 1:00 to go out and start cleaning up what I could under the feeders before it turned into a soggy mess. The minute I opened the back door, I saw the Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the redbud, facing me. The explained why there were no birds in the yard.
I have decided it’s too windy to visit Riverside this morning on my way to the health club for my midday Wednesday swim. Although the Winter Storm Watch for tomorrow has been revised to a Winter Weather Advisory, a Wind Advisory has been added for today. There were no goldfinches in the yard this morning and so far only the House Sparrows and a few House Finches have flown in frantically and flown out.
It’s already quite warm and we will be in the fifties by afternoon. It should be raining by the time I leave for choir rehearsal. The rain will turn to snow Thursday morning with snow continuing of and on the entire day. Winter is not done with us yet.
I have to start getting up earlier! The days are getting longer and I have been giving in to a winter tendency to sleep in… but I think I better get back in shape. In any event, my birds always tell me when it’s sunrise, and on a sunny day they tell me just a little bit before. This morning was gorgeous, awash in sunshine, so after I fed everyone I headed for the Chicago Portage.
Suffice it to say we have had more snow since last week and it was a workout to walk the trails this morning. They have been navigated but the snow is still quite deep. Slow as it goes.
I hardly heard and didn’t see any birds at all until I got to the first rise where I found a couple American Tree Sparrows and several Black-capped Chickadees. The Chickadees evaded my lens but I managed to somehow focus on one Tree Sparrow.
So it was more snowy scenes, and some interesting sky views.
I took a look around the MWRD to see if there were any birds at all, dreaming of a misguided Snowy Owl, but not seeing anything.
And the view of the Des Plaines River through the bottomlands was equally stagnant.
Beyond the obvious deer tracks, there were some interesting tracks in the snow.
On my way to the second bridge and out..
All was not lost. I saw a distant adult Bald Eagle through the trees but did not have time for a photograph. Still, I was glad to see one.
Here’s a tree that had American Robins in it on January 31 but none today.
I think this Red-bellied Woodpecker has become familiar with me. His territory seems to be closer to the part of the trail where I have been ending my winter walks. Anyway he saw me stop when I heard him chirping around his trees and volunteered several nice looks.
I also managed to get a few somewhat-more-distant shots of a male Downy Woodpecker before I left. Lately it seems to be getting harder to focus at a distance so I’m happy with these.
Those warmer greener photos from late September are still in the works but I felt like honoring today’s walk before the snow melts. Here’s one more of the Red-bellied.
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…
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…
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.
A favorite ground-foraging place these days is the trail, and when I’m lucky and the only person on the trail, I can usually stop and watch the birds for some time.
I was beginning to think my ears were lying to me because I thought I always heard White-throated Sparrows but I was never seeing them. Then this one posed for a picture.
Dark-eyed Juncos are also fond of the gravelly trails.
I could barely focus on this somewhat far-away American Goldfinch, but I so love their muted tones this time of year.
It wouldn’t be Christmas week without a male Northern Cardinal.
I’ll be back shortly with the next installment. The days are getting longer…already!
After living in the company of the glorious music we performed in the Return of the Unity Temple Choir Concerts on December 18 and 19, surviving my participation in the concerts and revisiting particularly resonant passages in my head – I went out to the Portage this beautiful sunshiny morning to reclaim my walk routine. At least that was what first struck me as I started up the trail: the past two weeks it seems between spates of inclement weather and the need to practice my choral parts, my sense of routine was minimal at best. Beyond feeding the birds, playing a little piano and swimming, there was only room for choir.
But now we have a couple weeks off before we resume rehearsals. It has been such a profound transition from rehearsing remotely to video performances to learning all the music and singing together, vaccinated and masked, as a choir in live performance again, I found myself exhausted after the first performance and feeling let down a bit after the second, as if I never wanted it to end.
I suppose if I were still working and had less time to preoccupy myself with the clinical details of my moods, this would all be chalked up to just part of the end-of-year-holiday madness, but whatever it is, experiences seem more vivid and significant as I search for meaning in the morass.
But enough of that heavy stuff! It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp morning at the Portage. And I barely saw any birds. A footnote to that – I could not participate in the Christmas Bird Count this year because of the choir concert which fell on the same day, December 18. But the few birds I did see this morning were delightful in their own way, and here they are.
Early on, I heard what I thought was an American Tree Sparrow where I have in the past run into flocks of foraging birds, but did not see it. I proceeded up the path, pausing now and then to listen to a distant call or silence, the wind making me glad I had on my long underwear. Then I heard a Black-capped Chickadee call to me, before it appeared. I have come to consider the Chickadees my Greeter Birds at the Portage. Invariably they have always solicited my attention.
That was just before the opening in the fence. I didn’t feel like walking back along the river toward the railroad tracks or going in the other direction toward the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) but I stood for a moment after going through the break in the fence and managed to capture a couple distant shots of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.
I briefly saw a male Northern Cardinal but did not photograph it. When I got to the second bridge I could see some Mallards in the water that was shallow enough to melt. I started walking the trail on the opposite side of the water.
Here’s what the Portage looked like this morning. It was nice to see a bit more water, albeit mostly frozen at first.