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.

A Dark-eyed Junco and its shadow

We got a nice look at a Hairy Woodpecker. A photo of a Downy Woodpecker I saw later is below for comparison.

Downy Woodpecker

A Red-bellied Woodpecker was only partially obscured by a few twigs.

White-breasted Nuthatch

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.

My Reward for Taking Too Many Pictures

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.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Orange-crowned Warbler

Fall is also a good time for squirrels and nuts…

A cloudy sky.

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.

A fall tangle of leaves.

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.