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.

Back to Mid-April

In my typical fashion, I have been trying to write this post for the last week and a half. So while we are all wondering how to get through the holidays this year-like-no-other, I feel a sense of loss too, even though I likely would not have had any plans to go anywhere myself. But there’s also a sense of opportunity in any day I really don’t have to think about work.

Even though it was a cool, late spring and in the middle of the pandemic, there’s something oddly comforting these days about looking back.The Portage looks about like this now – no leaves on the trees, everything muted in browns and grays – but the birds are different in appearance, and most of these species have left for the winter. I took way too many photographs on this day, which might explain why it’s taken me seven months to process them. I won’t be doing a lot of explanation…that might take me another seven months. just hope you enjoy the images.

It will be a while before male American Goldfinches look like the one below.

Out over the Des Plaines River that day, there were three Belted Kingfishers flying around. I didn’t do a very good job of capturing them, they were quite far away. But at least one flew close enough to be recognizable.

A returning Song Sparrow
A Blue Jay, blending in with the sky and the barren tree
Waiting to come back to life.

I keep trying to get a decent photograph of the golden shafts on a Flicker and usually fail, but this time I got close.

There were a couple Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with the Mallards.

One Ring-Billed Gull flew over low enough to be identifiable.

Robins started coming back to their territories. The one in the second photograph is barely discernible from the tree it’s in.

Of course nothing says spring like the return of Red-Winged Blackbirds.

It was early enough in the morning to encounter a couple deer.

Please forgive me, I took way too many pictures of Golden-Crowned Kinglets. They are all gone now, but it was a joy to see them return in April.

Downy Woodpecker – the Portage’s most numerous resident woodpecker

Here’s a thrush I don’t see often – a Veery.

I took a few too many pictures of this Ruby-crowned Kinglet too, but at least I did get somewhat of a shot at the ruby crown.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker…

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

I am always happy to see a White-Breasted Nuthatch, even though they are with us all year long. I never tire of them.

The light was nice on this Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Brown-headed Cowbirds are…what they are.

The pair of Eastern Bluebirds this year were such a welcome sight. Although I saw them for several weeks, I don’t think they wound up staying to breed. I can only hope they give the Portage a second chance next year.

The first warbler to show up in the spring, and the last to leave in the fall… the trusty Myrtle, or as long as it’s still lumped with Audubon’s (last time I checked), it’s a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

I will be back with more from last spring (!) and some more current observations. I hope you are safe and well, wherever you are. And I hope you continue to find moments of peace and solace. There is still a lot to be thankful for.

May Migration Memories

Canada Warbler (female)

It’s hard to believe but spring passerine migration has come and gone again. I never made it to the lakefront, where I’m sure most of the migrants coming through the city were. The trees in the park near my office were late in leafing out, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see any warblers, and then, the last two days of May, there were a few pretty birds in that last push.

I took all these photographs trying out my new mirrorless camera. The purchase was inspired by the fact that one guide and one participant were using the Sony RX10 on the Texas trip, so I took that fact alone as a recommendation. I really haven’t had time to investigate all the features, but it’s more compact and easier to carry than my Canon 70D with the 300mm lens attached, so I have this now for situations when I don’t want to carry quite as much gear.

Eastern Towhee

After all the Hermit Thrushes that were in the park weeks before (not as many as last year, but I think I got pictures with the other camera…), I was surprised to see this Wood Thrush on May 30, after I had gone back to try to get a picture of the Eastern Towhee above who showed up on May 29 but eluded my efforts.

White-throated Sparrows were more prevalent in April – they seem to be all gone now

More shots of the Canada Warbler. She was in the park for two days. I often think that someone should name shades of yellow after particular warblers, but the steel-blue gray back of a Canada Warbler always stands out for me.

I adore Wilson’s Warblers – because they tend to move more slowly and deliberately in the trees! And I recognize Wilson’s Yellow, which is a good thing because I don’t always get to see that trademark skullcap.

It was especially challenging to get a photograph of this male Mourning Warbler. Usually they are closer to the ground, but this guy was up in the trees after their burst of foliage attracted just the bugs or worms he was looking for.

Mourning Warbler

Was surprised to see this flycatcher on May 30. Even more surprised to get a picture of it.

One of the last Ovenbirds – they were on the ground in the park for at least two weeks before the end of May

I don’t expect to see much along the Chicago River in the next month or two, save a Ring-Billed Gull or Herring Gull, or the occasional Mallard. Every once in a while there is a Black-Crowned Night-Heron making its way slowly along the river. But birds move and there’s always the possibility of a surprise somewhere.

I have many pictures I want to share from several Portage visits, and of course I will get back to the Texas adventure as soon as possible. Looking for more space in my non-blogging life. Survived the annual choir appreciation dinner and talent show Wednesday — the offerings from the choir members were outstanding and seem to get better and more varied every year. The “survival” part was debuting a flute-and-piano piece with my flutist extraordinaire friend Linda Rios, based on a melody I had written 50 (?) years ago to the lyrics of a Robert Frost poem, “The Vindictives.” Which has led me back to Frost and poetry in general. Looking for my next melody to show up sooner than another 50 years …And I hope to be back to this page soon!

3 Days in Michigan – Part 2

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Juvenile)

I was at Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, Michigan, years ago on a Kirtland’s Warbler tour, and immediately remembered the window feeders at the visitor’s center that attracted grosbeaks like the one at the top of this post. It was too late in the season to see a Kirtland’s easily, although one had been reported about five days before we arrived, but there were other birds to see and the forest itself is beautiful.

The Pileated Woodpecker above was actually not far from where we were staying when Linde went out for an early morning walk, and I managed, as always, to get representative but not very good pictures which I had to adjust for the backlighting. I think I’ll start now with my New Year’s Resolutions and plan to visit the places where Pileateds are seen more often around here, to increase my chances of getting a decent photograph.

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (adult male)

So to finish up with the grosbeaks at Hartwick Pines’ feeders, the main attraction was the Evening Grosbeaks. Although they proved difficult to photograph I did manage the pictures below, which are of an adult male and I believe the one on the lower right is a juvenile.

The day before we went to Hartwick Pines we visited the Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Plant which prides itself on its design to incorporate wildlife and native ecology into the whole process. If nothing else it’s a birding destination worth checking out.

With 11,000 acres of varied habitat it’s one of the best birding locations in the state. In the fields adjacent to the water treatment ponds we saw three Upland Sandpipers. They were too far away to photograph well but I did manage to catch them flying.

I think I saw more Black Squirrels this time than I have on previous trips to Michigan, but it was still hard to get a decent picture of one.

CORA 7-17-18-7001On the drive up I saw a Common Raven and then finally on our last outing one flew over.

The wastewater treatment ponds predictably had waterfowl. It was nice to see a Ruddy Duck (left, above) and we had to offer proof of the Lesser Scaup (on the right).

MALL 7-16-18-6833There was no shortage of young Mallards in various stages of development.

Mute Swans 7-16-18-6798Mute Swans, albeit introduced, are still lovely to look at.

In the summertime birders flock to sewage ponds in particular to see shorebirds. We saw only a few and they were pretty far away. Above on the left, a Lesser Yellowlegs, flying top right, a Killdeer, and below it is a Herring Gull, which is not a shorebird but a segue into the next photograph.

Gulls 7-16-18-6801On our way out we found most of the gulls were on the road in front of us. We estimated 2100 Ring-Billed Gulls and about 100 Herring Gulls mixed in amongst them.

Halloween Pennant 7-16-18-6787Here’s another Halloween Pennant. I have seen more of these dragonflies this year and I don’t recall having seen them before. Changes everywhere, big and small, and I guess this could be yet another one of them.

Woodchuck 7-15-18-6710The woodchuck above was found by Marty, a non-birder in the group, whom we dubbed the Mammal Spotter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woodchuck before…!

SCTA 7-17-18-7015Our last bird from Hartwick Pines, the Scarlet Tanager above, offered himself up for a series of photographs. Those tall pines do their best to make lighting difficult but I could not resist trying to capture him since he was at eye level.

BWHA 7-17-18-6953And one more photograph of the Broad-Winged Hawk which started off Part 1, who was also at Hartwick Pines, vying for the Most Memorable Bird award.

 

 

Down by the River

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Juvenile Black-Crowned Night-Heron

I miss my crows. Terribly. I miss their inventive, gentle camaraderie and sense of humor. And their joy for peanuts. I will have to see if I can find them one of these weekends when I’m not conscripted to be elsewhere and it’s not pouring rain.

Crow LSE 06-27-2017-0782I started writing this in the midst of a constant downpour. Contemplating how I am getting more used to the new workplace. My mood improved about the new gig after managing to get out for a couple short walks along the river last week. Birding along the river wasn’t half bad.

It turns out the Black-Crowned Night Heron at the top of this post was a rarity for this time of year. I had no idea what it was when I took the picture, I only pointed my camera lens at it and followed it as it flew by. It was darker than a first cycle gull and that’s all I knew about it until I took the picture. And then checking it on the camera when I got back into the office I misidentified it, but kept thinking it over and later it occurred to me that it was a juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron.

Below, a more likely suspect for a darker bird – a first cycle Herring Gull.

Not to be confused yet, at least, with the more prevalent adult Ring-Billed Gulls that have not yet left the area.

RBGU 10-12-2017-6332I got over to the Boeing garden a couple times last week. On Thursday I was faced with convincing two security guards that I was not taking pictures of the building, but of birds. Not sure if showing them my American Birding Association cap helped, but they left me alone after kindly admonishment.

I pondered a spy novel about a terrorist disguised as a bird photographer but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. The Yellow-Rumped Warbler above was still hanging out in one of the young oak trees. (No suspense in that sentence.)

Below is one of my favorite migrating sparrows, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. This one has been hanging out by the train station.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

Likely the last Golden-Crowed Kinglet I will see before spring.

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Golden-Crowned Kinglet

A Gray-Cheeked Thrush…

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

And a more ubiquitous Hermit Thrush…

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Hermit Thrush

The White-Crowned Sparrow below flew into a plexiglas barrier and then I found it hiding in a dark spot by some low vegetation on Friday morning. I called Chicago Bird Collision Monitors and then, following their instructions, dropped it off in their parked vehicle, after placing the bird in a paper sandwich bag I have been carrying around for weeks just for this very purpose. It was taken with other survivors to Willowbrook Wildlife Center for rest and rehabilitation.

WTSP taken to CBCM 10-13-2017-6473

White-Throated Sparrow requiring help

Below, another White-Throated Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush foraging in the not-so-pristine leaf litter at Boeing.

Thursday was the last time I saw the Blackpoll Warbler that was there for a few days.

BPWA 10-13-2017-6543