Fall Walks at Thatcher Woods

I am back from the land of afternoon naps with a short segment.

We’ve had two Saturday morning walks at Thatcher Woods in River Forest, and we will have our final fall migration walk there on October 8. It’s been pretty quiet the last few weeks, but I did manage some photographs of a few birds, so here they are.

Basically, the Red-tailed Hawk was the only bird I captured doing anything on September 10.

Then on our last visit on September 24, the first of season bird of the walk – and for several of us, first of the year – was this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker who was perched somewhat distantly in a tree. This was likely the best long look I will get this year so I took too many photographs. I have since seen a few more of this species but have not been able to photograph them. For me, the placement of white on the wing quickly distinguishes this bird from other woodpeckers.

I must have had a few long moments to photograph the Red-tailed Hawk.

Also notable on the 24th, but impossible to capture well with the camera, were 34 Northern Flickers foraging on the lawn. We didn’t dare bother them by getting any closer.

A murder of about 20 crows flew overhead, which was beautiful to see. I could only capture a few, but to me there is nothing like a crow in flight.

Here are a few more of the sapsucker.

On our last visit we saw some Yellow-rumped Warblers by the parking lot, and after the walk I stayed a moment to get a few photographs.

Here are a few more of the Red-tailed Hawk.

Our last walk at Columbus Park is tomorrow morning. I have much more to report, it’s just been a busy week and I’ve been too tired to sustain many thoughts. I will try harder to be “back” at least while there’s still some activity before winter sets in. Then the birds will be fewer but somewhat easier to see, perhaps. Best to expect the unexpected.

Two Visits to Riverside

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.

The Des Plaines River is flowing again.

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.

Song Sparrow – First Song
Song Sparrow – Second Song

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.

Mirrorless Outings

Even before I dropped the Canon zoom lens, I was starting to feel like at times it might be more comfortable to go out with the mirrorless camera I purchased a few years ago and had stopped using when I was no longer going downtown to the office. Also I had never really figured out how to get the mirrorless to focus on a bird, so it was a good time to start practicing. These photos are from December 1 and 3, at the Riverside Lawn Trail. I have just figured out that the wooded area across the foot bridge that the county reclaimed which has eventually become part of the forest preserves is called Riverside Lawn.

In spite of the lack of light, I managed to get some fairly decent pictures with this camera. Some well spaced-out starlings were actually all in focus individually. It has a very efficient zoom that managed to get quite clear pictures of the Red-tailed Hawk below from across the river. Invariably I have been seeing a Red-tailed Hawk around 10:00 AM both here and at the Portage.

It must have been windy that morning.

Standing on the first bridge, I noticed a flock of American Robins and the European Starlings hanging out in the shallows and bathing. The camera did a good job capturing the action.

Below is a Hairy Woodpecker, which made four woodpecker species on the 3rd – I did not manage to get a picture of the Northern Flicker. A male Downy Woodpecker is in the second gallery, on the same pole.

And a female Downy Woodpecker.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

I don’t always see Mourning Doves. But on December 3rd, I was standing just hanging out with the mixed flock and a total of eight Mourning Doves eventually showed up.

There are always a lot of Northern Cardinals, and I was lucky enough to figure out the focus on a few of them after many tries.

A Fox Squirrel and a Gray Squirrel.

For as many Dark-eyed Juncos as I normally have seen – up to 30 or more – they are incredibly difficult to capture more often than not. On the ground, they blend right in.

I can always count on Mallards and sometimes Canada Geese.

More dreary views, and the Rock Pigeons that seem to congregate on top of the Riverside Town Hall or the Hofmann Tower.

When it focuses, this camera is great for some really crisp images, so I look forward to using it more often, especially in low light situations. I hope I can get better at focusing all my equipment since I think my ability to determine whether I have the manual focus sharp is diminishing. In this case I gladly welcome artificial intelligence. A wasp nest caught my eye, and I have frequently seen the fungus at the bottom of one tree, which looks like it has been eaten.

I’ll be back shortly with my last visit using my old 100-400mm lens. It’s already proving to be an interesting winter.

Two Chilly Portage Mornings

I’ve been to the Portage several times lately, and that includes a few times since these photographs which were taken November 26 and 28. I managed to get a few pictures of an American Tree Sparrow, which was my main motivation to go out into the cold the second day. I will likely see more of this species in the coming weeks.In fact I saw three this morning. But it’s also been relatively quiet at the Portage lately.

For whatever reason it was harder to get the bird posing below in focus than the one mired in the stalks.

The usual cast of characters were present on one or both days. I was fortunate enough to have four woodpecker species on the first day: Red-bellied, Downy, Northern Flicker and Hairy.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

What’s really interesting about the photos below is that I didn’t realize until I started processing them that next to the Flicker on a separate branch was an Orange-Crowned Warbler. I enlarged the image of the warbler below.

This is Dark-eyed Junco season. I have been encountering flocks usually foraging on the path, along with Northern Cardinals.

There are still some American Goldfinches about all though not as many as I was seeing a couple weeks ago.

It’s always a nice surprise to see a Brown Creeper.

Here’s what the Portage was looking like on those cold, cloudy days.

I think the Fox Sparrow below is the last one I have seen.

There have been one or two Red-tailed Hawks every time I have gone to this location. Sometimes I only hear the hawk, but usually if I am still around by 10:00 I get to see one. This is a particularly dark-colored individual.