It’s been a slow week or two out on the trails but every once in a while there’s a surprise. Such was the morning of February 6 when shortly after I started walking the paved trail by the Des Plaines River in Riverside, I saw a young-looking Pied-billed Grebe sitting in the water by the near shore with a couple Mallards. Even though there was vegetation in the way of my lens, it occurred to me when I later looked at these photos that I don’t think I have ever been this close to a Pied-billed Grebe.
There wasn’t much else to get excited about that day or on two subsequent visits but what I did manage to capture is represented here.
It was a nice, sunny day for Mallards.
A look at some of the ice – slowly melting.
On the other side of the foot bridge I barely managed to capture the Redhead which was still present and a male Red-breasted Merganser.
On February 8, there was still a plenty of ice and it was gloomier. A Common Goldeneye was fishing.
I was a bit surprised to see this Mourning Dove sitting on a low branch over the ice in the river.
When I returned on February 10, the most notable thing was the sunshine.
Now the pair of Red-breasted Mergansers were quite cuddly in the water.
A Red-bellied Woodpecker showed up briefly to emphasize the blue sky and buds on the tree it was visiting.
I have been to the Chicago Portage off and on and there are a few photos there for another post perhaps. I took a couple more distant jaunts the past two weekends just to get out of my rut, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot happening anywhere lately. But with the increased daylight, birds are singing. In addition to the Northern Cardinals, the Red-bellied Woodpeckers have started to sing. And Red-winged Blackbirds are also returning to their territories. Spring is a promise.
I haven’t been out for a walk the past two days, due to snow of one sort or another. I did manage a few visits last week in the gloom. These photos are all from Riverside, starting with January 18.
it was warmer last week and from time to time there were Canada Geese.
Any bird who sits still long enough to be photographed gets my attention.
There were geese on the lawn by the library.
And then I noticed a lot of American Tree Sparrows in the grass as well.
But then after I crossed the footbridge and started to walk the trail nearest the river in Riverside Lawn, I spotted a Winter Wren.
Seeing I was paying attention to the Winter Wren, a Carolina Wren came out to pose for me. This happened the last time I saw these two characters. I was also happy to hear a vocalization from the Carolina Wren that was new for me. I hope I remember it next time I hear it.
Fitting in with all the brown birds, a Mallard hen standing in a shallow spot.
And I saw 64H again. That may have been the last time I saw him.
My next visit on January 20 was much gloomier.
But there was a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the river that made up for the gloom.
I barely caught the Belted Kingfisher in flight and then managed to find it perched later with its back to me.
Backlit gloom did no favors for this White-breasted Nuthatch.
On January 23, there were at least 100 Canada Geese by the footbridge. I couldn’t stuff them all into one frame.
The light wasn’t good enough to capture a Downy Woodpecker in focus, but he brightened up the gloom anyway.
I saw the Belted Kingfisher again. He was quite far away.
A Northern Cardinal was my consolation prize.
It’s been quiet, getting colder, and we are about to dip into the deep freeze. The snow so far hasn’t been too much of a problem as the temperature has been just above freezing most of the time, but it looks like the next few days we will have more snow to deal with in addition to the cold. Such is winter.
Looking forward to singing Sunday morning. It will be just sopranos and altos. We’re singing a lovely little song in Italian and I am looking forward to rolling my r’s.
More winter birds on the way. Hard to believe we’re almost done with January.
I was ready to do another 3-slice version of Portage visits but decided to break up the monotony with my last two Riverside walks. on March 11 and 16, respectively. The visit on March 11 was after a light snowfall. which may have been our last snow. We have warmed up off and on since then and right now we are getting some rain for a couple days so I hope to write a couple posts while I’m stuck indoors.
This was the last time I saw waterfowl that weren’t Mallards or Canada Geese. There was a pair of Common Mergansers.
And a Common Goldeneye. These were the birds I had been seeing all along.
I did manage to find a couple Dark-eyed Juncos to sit still long enough. The one in the second photo had a little snow on him.
Here’s how the foot bridge looked with freshly fallen snow.
To my delight, when I looked down river, I saw some Red-breasted Mergansers.
There are seven of them in the photograph below. There might have been another underwater.
I did manage to get a closer look at a pair while I was on the other side of the foot bridge, or Riverside Lawn. First I saw the male, then the female popped up right next to him and then he dove, leaving her with a spash.
The last snowy scenes…
A pair of Downy Woodpeckers were hanging out together.
On March 16, the first bird I saw was this Cooper’s Hawk in Riverside Lawn but I was just about to cross Joliet Avenue from the Lyons parking lot.
Here’s how the river looked from the Lyons side.
It was cloudy again, which made for a pretty indistinguishable photograph of these six European Starlings.
The Des Plaines River from the other side of the Joliet Avenue bridge, and the paved walk.
The cloudy sky was variable.
I managed to capture a Mallard in flight and this lovely couple.
Also flying around were four Red-winged Blackbirds. They kept chasing around across the river and back again.
There was one lonesome Canada Goose at the bend in the river.
I’ve been seeing White-breasted Nuthatches lately instead of just hearing them.
There were quite a few Dark-eyed Juncos that day which probably made this one more relaxed.
I even managed to capture a female Northern Cardinal before she disappears into nesting season.
The highlight of my walk was more audible than visual. What I am sure is the same Song Sparrow who charmed me last time with two different songs this time sang four – or five, depending on whether you count variations as another song – distinctly different melodies from the two I recorded a week earlier. It was almost as if he was waiting for my return to sing a recital. You can hear all his riffs below. Song No. 2 has a Red-winged Blackbird in the background and Songs 3 and 4 have some White-breasted Nuthatch and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Not to be outdone, a Northern Cardinal chimes in on the fourth recording.
And he had his back to me the entire time, so I couldn’t get his picture. But what a singer!
So I didn’t see a lot of birds but it was an interesting walk. The decaying wood below caught my eye.
There’s more as we slowly but surely slide into spring. We are not done with cold weather but there are no hard frosts in the forecast for the next ten days so I am hoping we are at least done with that.
The Unity Temple Choir is going to sing live in the sanctuary this Sunday for the first time in two years. We had a great rehearsal Wednesday night with Keanon Kyles who is our remarkable operatic bass-baritone friend and he will be singing the solos and leading the hymns for the congregation, which will also be allowed to sing along, albeit masked, for the first time. I will miss going for a walk on what is predicted to be a beautiful sunny day after all this rain, but it will be worth it to sing again for the congregation. More sunshine is coming.
Spring so desperately wants to happen. Or so I wrote when I was starting to put together this post four days ago. But then we had to spring the clocks forward, as if shifting more light to the end of the day would hurry up spring faster. However, we have been held back by what seems like the longest winter ever, and that one-more-day philosophy takes over. I may be too tired to know what I’m writing here, but I think the bright sunshine and the angle of its light now helps to wake me up, wakes the birds up, and the trees are probably musing among themselves, the time is coming.
I’ve managed to walk along the river a few times in the last couple of weeks, whether on my way in to work or those rare times when I manage to take a break and go for a walk. The weather has made it more difficult. I got out today for half an hour or so. The wind made it quite chilly, but wherever I could find a patch of sun, there was hope, if not many birds.
In any event, below are some pictures I took of Red-Breasted Mergansers last week. They’ve been hanging out in the river lately, like they did last year. One evening before I got on the train, I counted over 100 within my view outside the station. The pictures below are from one morning last week when there were four males trying to attract one female. She got into the act at one point chasing off one of her suitors. Click on the images for a better view.
Herring Gulls have been following the mergansers hoping to snatch the ducks’ catch.
I was really surprised on an earlier walk to see a River Crow! A Herring Gull was surprised to see him too and tried to knock the Crow off his perch, but of course, the Crow was triumphant.
I’m hoping for a Return of the River Crow. I miss hanging out with the Lakefront Crows terribly, and it would be just so neat to have a River Crow following. So now every time I go out, I carry peanuts, just in case.
The moon was beautiful a couple weeks ago, so I took a few pictures after I went swimming (there are always better moon views in the gym parking lot). It was exactly a month after the night of the blood moon when my former Prius C was totaled. The shock has almost completely worn off, and I’m very happy with the new car. It’s easier to give people rides, so there are more conversations. And I am about to find out how much easier it will be to fill up the hatch with birdseed. What more could I want?
Two weekends ago now it is, I went to down to the lakefront to find Crows and whoever else might be hanging out. I was fortunate to be greeted by a group of five crows by Buckingham Fountain who remembered me from the last visit and indicated that by gathering around the same spot I fed them last time. I chose a better spot this time, I think, without a fence around it.
They didn’t seem too enthusiastic to see the cookies, but I suspect that’s because they’re youngsters and haven’t been exposed to them yet. I may run the experiment again next weekend and see if their reaction to the cookies is any different, because I’m sure after they were done caching and stashing all the peanuts they came back to check out whatever was left of the cookies. I say that because there were squirrels starting to show up.
There was a Cooper’s Hawk that flew into some trees which I tried to get a better shot of than the one below…
But since that didn’t happen, I walked down along the lakefront to see waterfowl. Most of the ducks were too far away to photograph, and they seemed to consist mainly of both Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers, a few Common Goldeneye and a couple Coots.
Inevitably there were a lot of Canada Geese. They flew into the lake from Butler Field at one point. As long as there is open water I have a feeling they won’t be going anywhere else anytime soon.
I came back inland and walked through Millennium Park seeing nothing of interest. But as I neared Randolph on the north end of the park, I saw some crows across the street so I followed them behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building where we have never met before. It seems like too staid a situation for peanuts but I picked a safe-looking corner, knowing the Crows would soon remove all the peanuts and no one would notice.
Thinking these are likely the same Crows that hung around Lake Shore East Park, I decided to see if they remembered the wall running along the Radisson parking lot that protects people and cars from falling into the empty lot below. The Crows picked up on the location immediately.
Apologies if this becomes a strange-looking post: I’ve been having issues with this new editor. Half the time I can’t see what I’m doing. It’s great!
Nothing makes my heart soar like the sight of a Crow in flight so I’m glad my friends obliged me that day.
Onward to the busy holiday weekend. I have Christmas Eve off of work this year thanks to the calendar, so the prospect of 4 days off in a row has given me a heady, almost drunk feeling of security that I can accomplish even half the things on my list. I am singing in a near-midnight candlelit service on Monday… I will try to report back soon. Until then, best wishes to all for a warm and loving holiday season.
Some days spring seems inevitable, others it seems to be lagging behind a cold front. I’m trying to get caught up with posts that have escaped my ability to sit down and write them. So these pictures from two weekends ago start off the Slow Spring documentation. I was joined by my friend Lesa and we started off early at the Chicago Portage. Note for Sunday birders: it was easily an hour past sunrise but the forest preserve employees had not shown up yet to unlock the gate to the parking lot. We waited perhaps five minutes…
Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage
I was hoping an earlier start might reveal more activity, perhaps a mammal or two, anything different. But just as I can’t predict surprises I apparently can’t predict nothing happening either. Maybe for the birds, waterfowl in particular, nothing seemed out of whack. Except I wonder what happened to the Mallard on the upper right below, who seems to have lost a lot of neck feathers, perhaps getting caught in something while he was dabbling for food. He otherwise seemed to be okay.
The stream scene at the Portage hadn’t changed too much for the Canada Geese, except that there were fewer of them than the last time. We walked out the back trail by the train tracks that leads to the Des Plaines River and saw distant Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers, but for the most part, the birds were just too darned far away to see well without a scope. My monster lens managed to identify three Wood Ducks hanging out on a fallen limb enhanced with detritus and trash.
Wood Ducks on the Des Plaines
Song Sparrows were the most visible passerine species…
And one lady cardinal volunteered a brief acknowledgment after sitting with her back to us for several moments. Her expression conveys to me, “Just what do you want?”
Frustrated by the lack of participation at the Portage, we stopped by the house to pick up the scope and drove out to Saganashkee Slough in Palos to see the reported Eared Grebe. Eared Grebe isn’t one we see often in this area, so it seemed like a worthwhile venture. The sun was getting higher which made backlighting a bit of a problem, but we appreciated whatever perceived warmth the sun had to offer. Thanks to generous and helpful birders already at the scene, we located the Eared Grebe. It was swimming around on the far side of the slough, of course, not too far from the men fishing in the first photo below with the Red-Breasted Mergansers flying. The second photo shows the wake behind the Eared Grebe and the last photo was the best I could get from such a distance. You can click on it to get a bit of a better view.
In contrast there were perhaps twenty or more Horned Grebes (top pix below), although I was unable to find one in breeding plumage. And those show-off Red-Breasted Mergansers again.
Horned Grebe, Saganashkee Slough
Mallard drake, Chicago Portage Woods, with neck feathers…
Apologies are in order, I have been a bad blogger lately. It’s not for laziness so much as exhaustion by everything else that has to get done in life. I also think my body slowing down with its latest complaint affects everything since it’s hard to totally dismiss chronic pain. But don’t worry, temporary remedies work well and I’m looking forward to engaging with a more permanent remedy starting in a few weeks. (And I’m thinking beyond the procedure: if I have to sit around a bit more for a few days maybe I can amuse a few of us with on onslaught of blog posts…)
I have more recent excursions to report as soon as I can. I also am waking up to thinking about those big life questions that surprise me every once in a while when I come to realize how I have succumbed to the general malaise reinforced by the bombardment of media, which are designed to distract from reality. I think we’re all hovering around our own versions of this existential enigma, and once I can find all the little nuggets of inspiration that I have gleaned lately from various sources, I will try to offer them up in the context of this blog space. Thank you for being patient and staying with me.
I got out after last week’s snow to visit the Millennium Park Crows and they were happy to see me. But only after I managed to take enough pictures of a Cooper’s Hawk that was sitting in one of their trees. The hawk was not very cooperative with me.
A few more photos of my always cooperative Crows. One Crow in particular was determined to see how he could fit more hot dogs into his bill.
On Friday afternoon, I decided to go down to the lakefront again. Predictably, the birds were far out.
But I did manage to get up close and personal with a Mallard in the harbor.
And then as I walked around the side of the Columbia Yacht Club where some people were fishing off the docks, I found some Red-Breasted Mergansers. But they became less than interested in me quite quickly, so I took out my photographic frustration on a willing first cycle Herring Gull.
Hoping to get out before the end of this week, depending on the weather and work. We have been very cold the last couple days, making it tempting to stay indoors.
Even though last week was consistently warmer than the weeks before, it still took a long time to turn the lakefront from ice to water. Some smaller bodies of water are still frozen, but Lake Michigan, at least on the Chicago shore, is now open to ducks. However, as soon as they leave, if not before — although I’m sure the presence of ducks is not the trigger for this event — the yacht club will start putting out the buoys for the boats.
Below is a little photographic ice check timeline.
Ice on 3-9-15
Ice on 3-10-15
No ice this part of the harbor on 3-12-15 (same dock as 3-9 above)
But ice still farther out on 3-12-15
Of course the light was great on the days when there was not much to photograph but ice.
Canada Geese on the ice, 3-12-15
And even as the ice seemed to be melting steadily all week, on Friday the 13th, as luck would have it, the ice was right up to the shoreline again. I suspect that all the ice that was farther out had floated in to the harbor.
Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)
After the warming weekend, though, ducks were beginning to show up close enough to look at, even if the light wasn’t so wonderful.
Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15
Greater Scaup 3-16-15
And Ring-Billed Gulls have started coming back in droves.
Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15
By the middle of the week there were some more ducks in the harbor.
Common Goldeneye 3-18-15
A pair of Common Goldeneyes.
I’ve taken better photos of Red-Breasted Mergansers but I like these guys so much I can’t resist posting this one anyway. After all, I’ve likely never taken his picture before.
Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15
The Ring-Billed Gulls are getting ready for the tourist season.
And on land the only newcomer I saw last week was a Common Grackle, but all returns are welcome.
I haven’t been able to get out every day this week but I’ll continue to go when I can and I look forward to documenting whatever arrives..
It’s been a busy week, so I haven’t gotten out too much and, in spite of that, it’s taken me days to carve out a post.
Two American Coots on 1-29-15: this was the view without binoculars
Freer souls have been out in the cold finding the rarities, some of which have been seen on the Chicago River. As a matter of course, since last winter’s freeze of the Great Lakes, I make a habit of peering into the Chicago River every morning when I get off the train and look into that section of the River to see if there’s any bird life in it. Seeing as how last year at this time I was counting White-Winged Scoters…that species and even less likely birds have been showing up in other sections of the river, but downtown there isn’t much going on.
Confirmed Coots on 2-10-15 when they were a little bit closer
The Coots are long gone and nothing else has taken their place outside the train station. Ah, the frustrations of sitting inside an office all day…
So late in the cloudy, snowy afternoons of Tuesday and Wednesday this past week I walked north to where the river joins Lake Michigan to see if there were any waterfowl at all. I was delighted to see Red-Breasted Mergansers as I am accustomed to seeing them on the lakefront but had not yet seen any this year.
The lake is frozen close to shore, and ice flows into the river where it joins the lake.
Tuesday it was snowing, Wednesday just cloudy. Tuesday there were also a couple Mallards and one pair of Common Mergansers, along with a dozen or so Red-Breasted Mergansers and primarily Herring Gulls.