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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
We got a nice look at a Hairy Woodpecker. A photo of a Downy Woodpecker I saw later is below for comparison.
A Red-bellied Woodpecker was only partially obscured by a few twigs.
Ed had to leave early and I stayed a few minutes extra before a track team started running through. One of three Hermit Thrushes I saw is below.
A gull flew overhead – it might be a first-year Ring-Billed Gull. The black band on the tail would be reason to believe so…
On Friday, I slept in and only went out to do grocery-shopping. I ventured into my backyard in the afternoon for a few minutes while the sun was shining. I am still waiting for someone to eat the berries off the hawthorn before I cut its branches back – they are laden practically to the ground. The berries look good to me, I don’t know why nobody has eaten them yet. Didn’t the berries suddenly disappear in previous years…?
The other overgrown offering seems to be the asters that bloom this late. I don’t know how many times I cut them back from growing over the walk, but they have grown over it anyway. I can forgive them for the abundance attracting a few bees remaining.
As the rain and cold ensue and my birding travels diminish somewhat, I plan to get caught up with the rest of the fall photograph haul… Thanks for tuning in. I will be back.
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.
Fall is also a good time for squirrels and nuts…
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.
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.
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.
From no light to almost too much, this past Saturday! It was clear and cold. The sunshine helped my mood a lot, especially because it wasn’t particularly windy.
It’s always good to see a Red-tailed Hawk, even if you can’t see the red tail – at least I could make out the belly band in the pictures.
Just when you think you know a place by heart, somebody does something to totally disrupt your perception of it. The first thing I noticed were tire tracks leading from the parking lot to a spot where there used to be some nice flat rocks I often sat on to take a break and look over the water. They were accompanied by a large pointy boulder. The rocks and boulder have been removed and this fence put around the area. I can’t imagine what is going in their place. Unfortunately I don’t believe I ever took any pictures of the rocks themselves. The goal was always to sit on them.
My stump was looking well-defined that morning.
A couple White-Throated Sparrows made themselves available on the way out after I answered their calls.
This Black-Capped Chickadee was fascinated by something in the wasp nest.
And a Red-Belled Woodpecker was busy digging around for bugs in tree bark.
Canada Geese were mainly congregating in the Des Plaines. It was impossible for me to get a long shot of them all because there was a freight train parked on the tracks and I didn’t want to get too close to it in case it decided to start moving, so I settled for a few shots through the trees. And two passing over instead of an entire gaggle.
Not much chance for Downy Woodpecker pictures, but I did manage to sort of capture this female.
The sparrows are there, just hard to see. I barely managed to pick out this American Tree Sparrow.
The star of the morning was a Carolina Wren who kept singing and singing… and I did finally manage a couple distant photographs.
The landscape becomes the central feature when all else fails.
Since these were taken we have received a somewhat significant amount of snow. Suffice it to say it required shoveling. I suspect it will be around for a while because we are also quite cold. Maybe with a little sunshine tomorrow I can hang out with the birds in the yard in between work assignments.
I participated in the Christmas Bird Count on December 19th. It was a cloudy, cool day. Not great for photographs, or for a lot of birds either, at least where I was, but it was good to see more people participating. I took both cameras with me, not knowing what I expected to do with either one of them.
If I start thinking about how long it has taken me to get back to finishing this post I won’t do it, so strike that thought and keep going. Below is a look at how the Fox River looked that morning.
I started out with the mirrorless and managed to get a rather nice view of this Red-bellied Woodpecker. Actually all the bird pictures in this post were taken with the little camera. I didn’t have to fuss around with adjusting for no light as much.
At some point we had stopped to listen for birds and saw this amazing honeycomb hanging from a tree.
We had Downy Woodpeckers (below) and a Hairy as well.
It was almost not worth taking these photos of flying geese but you can appreciate just how dark and gloomy it was.
Learning more tree bark – this is a cherry tree, which the person who identified it said it looks like “potato chips.” I guess.
The Cedar Waxwings were the most cheerful sight.
It’s hard to motivate myself to do anything beyond the have-to’s, these days. In particular, after the coup attempt – which is hard not to take personally – as much as I want to continue hoping I can exude a positive vibe that will land somewhere it’s needed, it’s hard to fight sheer exhaustion. But this comes and goes in waves. It’s been cold and gloomy too, which does not help. Time to get up and do something! I need to play some piano every day for the birds. Music is life.
I’m adding this White-Breasted Nuthatch that somehow didn’t make it into a Portage post of October pictures. Another mirrorless capture.
I’m not making any promises about when I’ll be back, but sooner or later I’m sure I will. It’s been confusing to be anywhere lately. Everything has a veneer of unreality to it. Maybe it’s just time to start asking the old questions again, even if we still can’t answer them.
I had hoped to manage this post a couple weeks ago but I have been too busy at work. Saying I can only spend so many hours on my laptop no longer seems a valid excuse since we don’t seem to be able to do anything offline these days. So to make it before December is no more, here are photos from my last visit to the Portage on December 5th.
The day started off cloudy and quiet but when the sun came out so did the birds. Some Northern Cardinals hiding out in the open.
Can’t ignore a few Canada Geese flying over.
American Goldfinches will devour everything before they resort to my feeders.
More cardinal photos. Often these guys are skulky but they didn’t seem to mind me that day.
There were a lot of Black-Capped Chickadees that day, and they were not shy.