More Sides to the River

Last week, I finally discovered the other side of the Joliet Avenue bridge in Riverside which everybody else, even my non-birder friends, has likely known about. By running a little later than I had planned, I magically encountered two very nice women that morning who offered some interesting history about the river communities. These photographs are from the 10th and the 16th, and I probably should have done two separate posts, again I have too many photographs.

Except for this past Tuesday. I have been trying to settle into somewhat of a Wednesday routine, going for a walk along the Des Plaines River, then on to the health club for a midday swim so I am free for choir rehearsal in the evening. The pool tends to be less crowded in the evenings, and I am accustomed to going at that time. I also like to see the night sky after I swim. But I digress. Below is a distant picture of the footbridge I had heard about that crosses the Des Plaines.

Instead of the lawn at Indian Gardens, on this side there is a paved path that follows the river from the other side of the bridge near where I park in Lyons. It goes all the way into the Village of Riverside where the library, town hall and police and fire station are all located. The bridge is just past the police and fire station. I encountered my first guide on this walk. She told me she grew up in the area and had moved away but was back to help with her parents. She said the paved path was new, had been installed perhaps only for a year. Among all her other comments, I remember her saying there was a Bald Eagle family on the river last year. I certainly hope to see some Bald Eagles here this winter.

Across from the river side of the path is a large floodplain area that sits well below street level where there are houses. There are steps leading down into it, which the first woman told me was left over from a historical toboggan slide, There’s a similar sort of structure at Swallow Cliffs in the Palos region. Tobogganing must have been popular in Cook County.

The Riverside Water Tower bears further investigation.

There were two Great Blue Herons on the river.

Some more views of the river, leaves and trees…

Struggling to get a picture of at least one Dark-eyed Junco, I took the one below. I hear them more often than I see them lately.

Here’s a House Sparrow near the paved path who caught my attention.

This were Red-bellied Woodpeckers both days. Below is the one on the 10th.

American Goldfinches are still making the best of seed remnants. They are blending in well.

The foot bridge across the river.

On the other side of the footbridge is a paved road that leads to more development, most of which has since been removed. I met a woman who was driving to her physical therapy appointment – she had stopped for me to finish taking the photograph below. She pointed out several overgrown lots where houses had been. The unincorporated area floods, being too low and so close to the river. If I remember what she said correctly, the government bought out the homeowners to return the area to its natural state as a flood plain. She said wildlife had come back in full force and she was thrilled to tell me she had heard two owls calling to each other the night before.

Whie-breasted Nuthatch with … a nut

On my second visit to this area after I crossed the bridge on the 16th and started on the trail along the river, I found a Brown Creeper and a White-breasted Nuthatch.

Brown Creeper
White-breasted Nuthatch

I think this was the last time I saw a Creeper.

From the bridge, views of Canada Geese on the river.

There were some Mallards on the river as well, but generally far away. I managed to capture these few that were closer to shore. I hope to see some other ducks soon.

After the flocks of American Robins a couple weeks ago, now it’s hard to find even one Robin. Sometimes I only hear one or two.

On the other hand, Northern Cardinals are more visible.

The unpaved path leading back to Joliet Avenue on the other side of the river.

This busy Red-bellied Woodpecker was in the same area of the reclaimed wild space as the Brown Creeper and White-bellied Nuthatch above.

Some more views of the returned-to-wild areas on either side of the river. I will get better at identifying them as I visit more often.

It’s been so dry, it’s hard to imagine what this area will look like when it floods, but I am sure I will find out eventually.

My start and finish point, the Hofmann Tower in Lyons.

Thanks for hanging in here with me. It’s been challenging to put this mess together in any sort of logical progression. But I did want to make a strong case for this place because I will be visiting it often. I have found my second birding home.

Rusties!

Rusty Blackbird

When flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles occur, we’re always looking for Rusty Blackbirds in the mix and until last Sunday I had not seen any. When, just by luck, I happened to be standing on the trail just as a flock of blackbirds flew into the tree in front of me, and lo and behold, mixed in with the Red-wingeds were Rusty Blackbirds!

Below, there’s one Rusty and one Red-winged, for comparison.

These two look like the official greeters.

I was treated to another busy White-breasted Nuthatch.

After an entire summer looking for Red-bellied Woodpeckers and never seeing them, now they are becoming easier to spot. You can even see the “red” on the lower abdomen in the bottom photograph.

I’m really drawn to the gold-colored leaves.

The duckweed turned gray with the cloudy sky, making a strange background for the Mallard below.

A female House Finch and a barely visible Downy Woodpecker.

Below is a flock of American Goldfinches and then one individual well-camouflaged by the vegetation.

This might be the first time I’ve noticed what looks like a cattail gone to seed.

One more of the welcoming committee.

We are getting a little snow, followed by a brief warmup, and then more cold and gloomy weather. I plan to go out as much as possible, just because it’s good to stretch my legs, and then I never know what I will see. Either way there are lots of warbler photographs coming from a few months ago. I should have time now to go through them and celebrate a good haul.

October at the Portage

Fox Sparrow

A brief but driving squall of freezing rain in the yard yesterday morning supported my decision to not go for a walk. More snow and wind on the way today. A good day to take stock of my indoor life.

Yesterday morning also produced a brief sighting of a Cooper’s Hawk and the appearance of the large gray tomcat I scolded out of the yard as I was refilling the birdbaths before the rain started. I have perhaps 30 or more gallons of water stored in the basement and my rain barrels are still quite full. But we are due for more serious overnight freezing temperatures so I have made this my outdoor project for the weekend, draining the rest of the water and covering up the rain barrels for the winter. If predictions prove correct, we will be getting a little preliminary snow that won’t accumulate but will get us in the mood for winter.

These photographs are from October 17. I was not too surprised to discover I hadn’t processed many of them. I did find another confusing fall warbler which I didn’t report. It appears to be a first-year likely female Black-throated Blue Warbler (below).

Much easier to recognize and still pretty plentiful were Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The bird immediately below appears to have fused with the hackberry leaves.

Then there were the tree-climbing Yellow-rumpeds…

I don’t know why it’s been so hard to get a decent picture of a White-throated Sparrow, but I keep trying.

The Song Sparrow below was a more accommodating.

And another Song Sparrows popping up from the vegetation…

A reminder of how dry it still was in mid-October.

In general, Ruby-crowned Kingets were less prevalent than the Golden-crowned this fall.

Then House Finches started to emerge…

A well-seen Hermit Thrush below…

A momentarily present Northern Cardinal…

Below is an Orange-crowned Warbler… I have yet to see the orange crown on any of these but from what I understand it is barely visible.

Woodpeckers!

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

It was not easy to get a picture of the Brown Creeper below but this is just further testament to how often I saw at least one almost every time I went out.

And then there were the almost daily White-tailed Deer…

European Starlings were exceptionally striking in the light that day.

I finally broke down and started cleaning up my second bedroom yesterday. It will likely take me the rest of the year – but it’s a wonderfully freeing thought as I plow through an accumulation of treasures and junk. The first and most important motivation seems to be organizing and having one place for all the camera equipment. But hot chocolate seems more important at the moment…

Winds of October

I borrowed this title from Peter Mayer, whose song “Winds of October” runs through my head, encapsulating the chill in my bones over the last few days. Our endless summer is over. Although we are still a way off from an overnight freeze, the temperatures are much cooler and we are cloudy and rainy to boot. I can’t complain about the rain. The ground is parched, we need it.

Hoping I could see some migrating Sandhill Cranes at Goose Lake Natural Area this fall, I drove up there with my friend Lesa on Thursday morning… to find no visible cranes, only the sound of them as they likely flew overhead and landed somewhere else as we were walking through the forested tunnel part of the path. The remainder of the path has been paved with some sort of material which I am sure is better for bikes… The lake is totally gone and overgrown, and apparently nothing feeds into it.

But Lesa noticed the bizarre-looking Giant Puffball mushrooms growing off the wooded part of the trail on the way back to the car. I had never seen them before, so it wasn’t a totally uneventful visit.

We continued on to check out Glacial Park as it was nearby, and we watched the feeder birds from inside the visitor’s center… No Sandhills there either. I am not sure if I was too late again this year or if climate change is throwing off the whole scenario, but I likely will not go all the way back in that direction any time soon. But after all the great birding I have otherwise had the past two months, I really should not complain.

I needed a couple days to get caught up on sleep, to rise again early to meet Ed for the 7:30 bird walk at Thatcher Woods yesterday. Ed, who is the organizer, and I were the only two participants. It was chilly and rather cloudy – what else is new? We moved slowly around the perimeter of the grassy area and stood and observed the usual suspects. Most of them were up high and backlit in poor light.

One of only a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers

A few Yellow-rumped Warblers were barely seen. Golden-crowned Kinglets persisted. It was hard to imagine what the kinglets were grabbing out of the air and from the trees in their usual frenetic manner. But I suppose you have to be that small to find the smallest prey – likely those “no-see-ums.”

Running out of options, I took a picture of the moon. And then, as we stood there watching, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo landed on a branch right in front of us. It was no farther away than the first photo below.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I confess I hadn’t seen a Cuckoo in so long, I thought it might be a Black-billed – forgetting what one looked like. But the yellow orbital ring and the big splashy white spots on the tail make it a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

This is a bird I heard off and on all summer long and never saw. Cuckoos are notoriously reticent – in that they don’t move around much, so if they are sitting somewhere calling, well, good luck finding a bird that blends in with its surroundings and doesn’t move. Every Cuckoo I have ever seen has done something like this – either suddenly appeared, or I would happen upon one just sitting over a trail somewhere. But this one came and sat for us at least three minutes, listening to us talking in admiring tones. Maybe it related to the shutter clicks, which could sound, I suppose, like a very slow Cuckoo.

I managed to get a few photos of the other birds that were around. A Black-capped Chickadee was up high in an oak tree.