Return of the Slough

All the rain we have had has made McGinnis a slough again. The water levels are now deep enough to support a lot of birds and to attract visiting American White Pelicans. I read someone’s post about seeing them flying over McGinnis Slough on Sunday, which would have been a lovely sight, but that was enough to motivate me to see if perhaps some had decided to stay. I remember seeing hundreds of them years ago. I was happy to see perhaps forty or so, albeit too distant for a decent photograph, on Monday morning.

Even if there weren’t a lot of birds that I could see very well, it was good to see the slough again.

There were Bufflehead and Ring-necked Ducks at a distance, as is everything at McGinnis right now. I did manage to see one male Ring-necked Duck near enough for a photo. I haven’t seen these birds in a while. Look closely and you can see the ring on his neck.

Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of American Coots, some of which I inadvertently disturbed walking back through the trail.

Also predictably, there were a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds deciding on their territories. I took too many shots of this one trying to hold onto his perch in the wind.

Below, another male and a female, perched in the marsh.

Toward the end of last summer the water was non-existent. It’s good to see it again.

It started to get really cloudy before I left.

There were several Pied-billed Grebes but they were too far away to photograph except for maybe this one.

I barely captured this female Northern Cardinal but she proved how few photo opportunities there were.

The next series of photos is from one of my last visits on November 8 of last year. There were not many birds on that visit either although I attribute much of that to the fact that the grass was being cut very noisily.

The water levels were returning by November, which I guess was attractive to some Ring-billed Gulls.

Song Sparrows were still around here and there.

There were several Pied-billed Grebes that day as well.

And the American Coots were less skittish.

Canada Geese in formation

Now I will be start going to McGinnis more often. I will likely branch out and visit more places in the Palos area too, as there are a lot of them.

I am looking forward to choir rehearsal tonight. We sang half-masked on Sunday. The sanctuary was full of congregants so it was slowly starting to feel a little bit more normal. One inch at a time.

Slowly Emerging from Winter’s Grip

We are still cold. The forecast hovers between rain with a little snow mixed in and sunny respites here and there – the last sunny morning was Friday, and we will have one more day of sunshine tomorrow. I will be indoors singing in the choir, but it will be good to have the sunshine streaming through the clerestory windows of Unity Temple: the forecast is for rain and snow every day in the week ahead.

I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. Last year we had a drought. We seem to be making up for it this year. In any event, contrary to my musings in my last post, the American Tree Sparrows have not yet left the Portage, and there are still a few Dark-eyed Juncos around too. There wasn’t much happening with perching birds yesterday so I took note of a few other things.

A dusting of snow from the night before
Blue sky
A little bit of green
Flooded bottomlands by the Des Plaines

I was encouraged to see and hear an Eastern Phoebe, albeit at quite a distance.

There are Americans Robins everywhere, but they were generally too busy for photographs. I often find one walking ahead of me, sometimes looking back waiting for me to make the next move.

The Brown-headed Cowbirds are back, and beginning their courtship rituals. Below, some photos of the standard configuration – two males and one female with her back to both of them.

There were Red-winged Blackbirds everywhere but they were often too busy to capture. It is nice to see the females getting ready to settle in.

Since there were still numerous American Tree Sparrows, I took a lot of photos. Just to make sure I won’t forget what they look like.

Song Sparrows were not as easy to capture but they will be around all summer, when I will try as ever to get a picture of one singing.

Then there’s the stuff that seems to be greening before everything else and drawing my attention to the thorns amongst the leaves. It looks like some sort of wild gooseberry but I haven’t nailed it down yet. Update: my faithful follower Ann has identified this as Ribes hirtellum, Wild Gooseberry. Thank you, Ann!

Now I’m going back to March 15, which by contrast was a cloudy day, but offered some nice photo opportunities.

Sometimes I just get lucky with these White-breasted Nuthatch guys. This time became a nuthatch overload.

Also memorable that day was seeing a male Wood Duck in the water.

And then, flying away…

A male Red-winged Blackbird offered a series of images.

I also captured a female in flight.

A pair of Song Sparrows perched for me.

And I had an elusive Black-capped Chickadee. They have been keeping a low profile lately but I expect to see them a lot as soon as the bugs and warblers arrive.

I can’t resist being stared down by a Dark-eyed Junco.

American Tree Sparrows were fewer in number than they have been in the last week.

One more American Robin on the ground.

With the forecast for rain and snow this week, I don’t know how often I will get out. Of course things can change. I just don’t want to repeat an exercise I went through one day last week when I went out the front door and came back in three times before I finally decided to take my chances. So I will likely be back with some older photos before I banish them to storage. I hope your days are getting greener.

That Spring Feeling

Yesterday morning was beautiful with clear skies and the promise of warm temperatures. I decided to visit Riverside because I wondered if perhaps I would see a returning Osprey or Great Egret as both as had reported in the Palos area. I did not see either of these yet, but there was a Great Blue Heron on the river.

The Des Plaines River from the Riverside Library grounds

The walk started out slow and uneventful. I found a Song Sparrow busier foraging instead of singing although I heard one earlier when I was on the other side of the river. I inadvertently flushed this individual when I advanced along the trail at Riverside Lawn.

There was a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, and later a pair of Common Mergansers as well.

Dark-eyed Juncos are still around.

One Downy Woodpecker was available for a peek.

Although the landscape is still brown, there was a little moss and lichen color by the paved walk.

The most interesting part of my walk came at the end when I returned to my car parked by the Hofmann Dam and saw a Great Blue Heron farther up river. Some time after I got over to the Hofmann Tower, it started to walk across the river to the other side. I was at quite a distance, but the heron might have taken my presence and interest in it as further incentive to move. I try to be careful and keep this in mind, but it seems nearly unavoidable.

While I kept an eye on the heron, other birds caught my attention. A posing American Robin sat for me, and a flurry of Red-winged Blackbirds were likely beginning to pair up. The singing male was clinging to the phragmites stalk he sat on through a lot of gusty wind. I liked the way the group of Canada Geese in the river blended in with the rocks.

A Common Grackle flew by.

Then the Great Blue decided to try a different location altogether and flew downstream. I managed to capture its departure.

I will continue to monitor the presence of herons. I wonder if the same Great Blue and Great Egret that presided over the shallower rocky area where the geese were sitting will return to that spot. In the interim, here’s an extra of a female Red-winged Blackbird.

It was also time for a Red-tailed Hawk to fly over nearby.

Looking back to when the Common Mergansers were sitting on the ice… I am quite sure we are done with ice on the river now and I promise not to reminisce any further.

Although I heard a Belted Kingfisher the other day, I haven’t seen one here since December 30 when I managed these two photos.

We now have three days of gloom with wind and rain in the forecast. Every time I think about going out today I decide not to, even though today probably would have ranked as a good day a month or two ago.

Yesterday afternoon was quite pleasant for digging up Lesser Celandine in the backyard before it completely takes over. This is a futile pursuit, but I feel like I must take a stand anyway. I almost wish I could do a controlled burn. In any event, I heard Sandhill Cranes overhead although I could not see them. I was out even long enough for the yard birds to tolerate my presence somewhat but with muddy gloves on I did not engage in trying for any photo opportunities.

I am just content at this point to be slowly but surely adjusting to the disruption of the time change. Since I have to get up and feed the birds every morning, I am consigned to waking up in the dark and preparing the bird breakfasts long before sunrise. I have to keep working on it because next month with walks starting at 7:00 AM, even though the daylight will have increased in the morning, I will have to get up even earlier so I can leave the house by 6:30. Luckily those planned walks are only once a week. The reward will be the welcome sights of migrating birds.

Three Portage Visits

There has been a Lesser Scaup at the Chicago Portage for over a week. I first saw him on March 4 and have seen him on every visit since, including this morning. He seems to be content to hang out and has managed to evade predation. I find him an irresistible subject, even if most of the time he is somewhat far away.

This is a rather long post encapsulating what transpired on my walks at the Portage on the 4th, the 8th and the 10th of March. Immediately below are more photos of the Lesser Scaup from March 4 when I first discovered him.

The 4th was the first time I heard and saw male Red-winged Blackbirds here.

European Starlings are usually way at the top of the trees across the stream from where I am standing, but these two surprised me by being on my side for a change.

Robins are starting to return to the Portage and my neighborhood. They just started singing.

There wasn’t a lot happening on March 4, but it was a sunny day at least.

This young deer was too close and fearless.

Then on March 8, things were a bit more interesting. It started with Downy Woodpeckers chasing around.

I hadn’t gone too far before I saw what I believe to be the local pair of Bald Eagles perched on the electric utility structure. I can’t remember the last time I saw them here but it seems like at least two years.

When I got a bit closer, there was only one eagle perched. I then saw the other flying close by.

It was a beautiful morning.

I kept taking photos of this Red-winged Blackbird as he sang. I don’t know why I have them all here, he didn’t change his position much. But you can hear what he sounded like below.

Song Sparrows could be seen foraging on the ground near the trail.

The Lesser Scaup was present.

On my way out, I encountered three young, lost-looking deer.

And then out on the front lawn, a dead doe that had been ravaged by some beast, likely a coyote. I suspect it was the parent of the three youngsters. I decided to spare you the gorier photos on my cell phone.

As I walked to my car I encountered two Cook County Forest Preserves workers who had come to investigate and clean up. When I drove by about twenty minutes later after running an errand close by, the lawn had been cleared of the carcass.

I began making a connection in my mind between the feeding of the deer and this terrible incident and decided to talk to the man who has been distributing peanuts the next time I saw him.

So I went back to the Portage on March 10. It was a cloudy day and pretty cold.

Sometimes an American Robin will just stare me down.

The Lesser Scaup was still there.

The views that always catch my eye, looking pretty much the same two days later.

An adult Bald Eagle flew over in the distance.

Everybody was down on the ground looking for food, including two White-breasted Nuthatches. I think the one on the tree is a female and the one on the path the male. I wonder if he was going after what looked to me like part of a peanut on the trail.

I was still able to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

And a distant Common Merganser was in the Des Plaines River when I walked through the hole in the fence for a quick look.

There’s a grassy area that leads to the parking lot straight off the trail, but I rarely walk through there. I stood and watched from a distance as several American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows foraged. The American Tree Sparrows are directly below.