Prelude to the Deep Freeze

It’s snowing this evening, as I write this. I stepped outside to bring in bird feeders from the backyard earlier, and the humidity made it feel pleasantly warm. But we are plunging into cold tomorrow (the high will be 30 degrees Fahrenheit) and will continue to plummet to single digits by next Friday if the forecast is credible.

I was working on a lovely, bright, colorful post of a lot of birds seen on September 1 that I never got around to sharing, but decided to postpone that just a little longer because this morning, after disappointing outings all week, I went to the Chicago Portage, expecting to see nothing but up for the walk before my scheduled grocery run, and I was pleasantly surprised by a few birds beyond any expectations.

The first surprise: I heard, and then saw, a male Belted Kingfisher over the water. I can’t remember the last time I saw this bird here. More usually I see Kingfishers over by the Des Plaines River.

Things were looking a lot like this, at best, when I finally found most of the passerine flock just beyond the hill and the opening in the fence. The birds were pretty far away and it was hard to find them, let alone focus, in such poor light.

American Goldfinch

But then another surprise was seeing this Ruby-crowned Kinglet foraging on the ground to the left of the trail. I apologize for the lack of clarity in some of the photos, but the best ones I got were when the bird had its back to me. Of course.

Dark-eyed Juncos outnumbered every other species, but were hard to capture. I might have gotten some more photos except for a man walking through with his dog. Predictably the flock scattered to some unknown location and I never saw it again.

Enjoying the open water after yesterday’s rain were several Mallards.

And there were Canada Geese as well. No surprise there.

I was heading back out of the inside trail in my usual fashion, not expecting to see anything, and paused to look over the water. That was when I saw a distant Great Blue Heron. Surprise number 3! It won’t take long for the water to freeze the next day or two, so I don’t expect to see another one of these birds for quite a while.

I won’t know until tomorrow morning whether I want to walk in Riverside before I go swimming. But I am getting mentally ready for a long, cold but convivial Christmas Bird Count on Saturday by the Fox River. Sunday will be even colder, but the sun will be shining. I will be indoors singing in the choir. There are more sunny days in the forecast – but even colder. Glad I still have some earlier, warmer-looking photos to revive.

A Cloudy Morning in Riverside

We are rainy and still warm today so perhaps these photographs from Wednesday won’t look out of place. The forecast was similar to today’s, albeit almost twenty degrees cooler, but it didn’t rain while I was out. I nearly dashed out this morning when the sun broke through the clouds because spring migration is picking up, but I am not interested in playing chicken today with the forecast, and with predicted rain and storms there is wind that will eventually drive the temperatures back down to where they were when these pictures were taken.

The first thing I noticed looking over the river from the Lyons side was swallows. They were mostly Tree Swallows.

Except for a Northern Rough-winged Swallow I managed to capture, albeit blending in with the cloudy sky reflected by the water, which was moving rather briskly. I later tried to capture the “rapids” in the photo below the swallow.

For what it’s worth, there was also a Ring-billed Gull over the river at Lyons.

There were Yellow-rumped Warblers at the riverbank at Riverside, bugging in the mud.

Distantly perched, I barely managed to capture a Belted Kingfisher, a male this time.

Showing up for the count, so to speak, a female Brown-headed Cowbird was foraging in the lawn.

Over on the Riverside Lawn side of the Des Plaines things picked up a bit. There were numerous Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are slightly larger than Golden-crowneds, which makes them appear huge by comparison when you are dealing with birds this size altogether.

“No, I am NOT going to show you my Ruby Crown”

There were plenty of Golden-crowned Kinglets as well, with these giving me some nice looks.

At one point while I stood wondering where the birds were, a Song Sparrow came and sat right in front of me for the longest time. Here’s only a few of perhaps 20 photographs. He wasn’t singing, he was pretty silent, but he wanted me to notice him. Maybe this is the same bird that gave me a recital weeks ago. The third photograph shows his feathers ruffled up a bit by a wind gust. I don’t think the temperature had reached 50 degrees yet.

This Northern Cardinal looks a bit chilly as well.

It’s always hard to tell whether you are seeing the same birds that were on the other side of the river because they tend to fly back and forth, but I suspect these Yellow-rumped Warblers were different individuals from the mud bunch.

And then out of the blue, so to speak, I saw the flash of a Northern Parula. This was a bird I had seen on the weekend before at Columbus Park – and I will try to be back shortly with that report as I managed to get better images in much better light. This warbler has been showing up in various locations around the Chicagoland area the past week and it was still early on Wednesday. I was about finished with my walk when I noticed the bird was working along the riverbank and I followed it until I managed to barely grab these images. This bird seemed to prefer foraging in old logs.

I am always good for a quick White-breasted Nuthatch.

Blue Jays are starting to show up again. I have heard them on occasion all winter but now I am just beginning to see them.

Beyond that, a couple Mallard drakes for good measure.

And one more of the Northern Parula.

I will try to be back soon as I try to keep space on the old hard drive free for inevitably more photographs. It’s going to be a rather busy week as I keep practicing for the Spring Music Festival so I am not making any promises, but a rainy morning forecast helps the blog efforts.

I would also like to dedicate this post to the memory of my former first-alto Alice Muciek who was a force for nature and music, in whose memorial service I will be singing with the Unity Temple Choir this afternoon.

Going Back a Bit

I have been out locally the past two weeks and there is much to post about, but I thought it might be time to take a historical break. These pictures are all from October 19th at the Portage. Only a little over a month ago, there was still more color among the birds than the leaves. I spent a lot of time with this Nashville Warbler.

Perhaps in the instance below the leaves outshone the bird – a pretty drab-looking American Goldfinch.

The other late fall warblers were on hand. Below is a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

And the one I kept seeing later and later into the season, an Orange-crowned Warbler…

Barely visible but I would know that face anywhere (Orange-crowned Warbler)

Not a lot of sparrows on hand but I managed to capture these two.

White-throated Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow

And the Kinglets – Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned…

It’s been wonderful to see Brown Creepers on so many occasions.

Always glad to see a Black-capped Chickadee who seems to return the sentiment.

This could have been the only Great Blue Heron I saw here for months since the drought caused the water level to drop so drastically.

Not a wonderful place for a Hermit Thrush to pose but I was glad to see it.

It wasn’t quite woodpecker “season” yet but I managed to see this female Downy Woodpecker.

There are lots more historical visits to make sense of – indeed a flurry of fall warblers that I was so busy taking pictures of I barely have barely had time to go through them, so they may periodically provide a little visual warmup during the cold.

I am mourning the death of my beloved singer/songwriter/implacable musician Zebra Finch male to whom I gave the name of Arturo Toscanini. He died Thursday morning. I found him on his back, on the floor of the dining room by the windows. He was still warm when I picked him up. He had been singing a lot lately, and I think perhaps he had been telling me his time was coming because I found myself thinking about how old he had to be, even though he had no signs of aging or impairment, other than it seemed his little goatee was getting whiter and whiter. The blessing in all of this is that I have one of his offspring who is singing an abbreviated version of his Arpeggio Song and an even shorter memory of his TaTaTaTaTAH Song. Also, other birds have taken up the actual Toscanini Song that he used to sing a long time ago. And there are many more songs among them to catalogue and follow. At some point I hope to go through the years of recordings (I determined I must have gotten Arturo sometime in late 2014) to see if I can put together a timeline of his compositions. In the meantime, I am incredibly thankful for all the avian musicians I still have with me. Singing is their raison d’etre, and music is life.

Of Yellow-Rumpeds and Kinglets

Fall migration always seems to take a turn with the sudden arrival of scores of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, the latter two species that were called “Old World Warblers.” It turns out that Old World refers to a genus that the kinglets shared with other birds of the world (the Sylviidae) before they got split off into Regulidae. But suddenly all new world warblers – the wood warblers, or Parulidae – you may have seen over the past few weeks are less commonly seen and these species are abundant. Not to confuse you – the Yellow-rumpeds are wood warblers and still being seen.

It was a cloudy morning, ahead of some significant rain in the forecast, and I went to the Portage last Tuesday to see if any birds were about. At first, due to the cloudiness, there were distant Red-Winged Blackbirds moving about and a couple Woodpecker species, but I really didn’t expect to see much of anything. And then, perhaps due to the still-warm temperatures and the sky brightening up a little bit, I found one of those Magic Trees, this time, through the break in the fence and on the trail leading toward the train tracks. Magic Trees host a flock of foragers, and this one was no exception. I should note that it was a Hackberry, as have most active trees been this season.

Anyway, I was delighted to find the three photographs below, taken in rapid succession, of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. I love his “ta-da” wingspread in the third photo.

Below are some Yellow-Rumped Warblers. I stole the picture of the one at the top of this post simply because the lighting was better when I took it and the one below was just a little too dark.

Sparrows are starting to come through. Below is a White-Throated Sparrow, often the first to show up.

Below are Ruby-crowned Kinglets. I seem to be seeing fewer of them than the Golden-crowned but it could just be the Golden-crowned getting more of my attention.

The lack of light didn’t do this Nashville Warbler any favors.

Magnolia Warblers have managed to show up the greatest length of time, from the very beginning until just a couple days ago.

Hanging out in the same spot where I found the kinglets this time was a very cooperative, and I guess hungry, juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

I am trying to remember what the bridges looked like years ago before these were installed, but I can’t seem to conjure images up in my brain. I know the path to them was not paved. Not sure I have squirreled away any photographs either. In any event, they got painted over this summer to cover up some graffiti. But they are still fairly attractive, even if it gets harder and harder for me to peer over them with the camera as I continue to shrink.

Some scenes of the Portage showing what I guess will be the fall colors…

Two more of the Grosbeak.

When I got home I found this bee enjoying the asters blooming in the front yard.

I am taking way too many pictures every day to keep up with this fall deluge of migrating birds, and as long as the weather is good, I will be going out and taking more. I figure I should go for as much sunshine and good weather as I can before the inevitable cold and snow. Maybe I will get caught up some snowy day.

Leading Walks

I led two walks for the Unity Temple Unitarian Universality Congregation (UTUUC) auction again, on September 11 and September 25 this year. I didn’t take a lot of pictures, even though I was in much better shape than I was last time with the broken elbow. The pictures from the 11th are first and the ones from the 25th start with the Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

More than anything, it was good to get out with people from the congregation, most of whom I had not previously connected with, which was the whole point, beyond raising money, of offering a walk as an auction item. We had great conversations and the weather was good on both days, so I find myself looking forward to doing this again. And again.

Not quite the last Indigo Bunting (a juvenile).

I managed to capture this Chestnut-sided Warbler with a bug.

The Yellow Warbler below was deemed “rare” in that it was late to be seen on September 11, so perhaps I developed too many photos of it to prove I had seen it.

A Red-tailed Hawk flew over.

It was nice to see yet another Eastern Wood-Pewee.

I am always grateful to the bees that remind me the Canada Goldenrod, however strident in taking over spaces, is needed and appreciated by them.

A closeup of some galls that attach themselves to hackberry leaves.

Not a representative photograph at all, but below was my first of many Yellow-Rumped Warblers to come.

Below is a somewhat hard-to-see Blackpoll Warbler. You can always click on the image to see it better.

For a few days there was a juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak or two.

Finally started seeing some Ruby-crowned Kinglets on September 25th like the one below. I have since captured more – to follow eventually.

Magnolia Warblers just kept popping up all month.

One more of the delicately decorated Swamp Darner also at the top of the post. It was on its way somewhere on September 25th,

I led a walk this morning at Columbus Park – I was the only participant. I think I might return shortly with that adventure before I continue to plow through the accumulated backlog: for instance, I wound up going back to the Portage before and after the second walk and found it to be very birdy, so be forewarned.

Beautiful Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

On May 1st, on a somewhat cloudy morning which turned sunnier, I encountered the first of a few Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers coming to claim their territories for the summer. This provided an unusual opportunity to grab some really nice photographs.

Of course there were other birds available, if not all quite as accessible. Below, my last cooperative Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Palm Warblers were around – they were in the first wave, so to speak. I may still see one or two but I think for the most part they have moved on to their breeding grounds far north of here.

I did manage to barely capture this Northern Cardinal who was convinced he was pretty hard to see.

I am not sure if Mourning Doves are in decline but according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service their numbers dropped in 2020 from 2018 and 2019. I simply feel as if I have seen fewer of them.

Here’s a little bird I could stand to see more of. Field Sparrow. I likely will see some throughout the summer in their more suitable grassland habitat.

Eastern Phoebes seem to come and go at the Portage so far.

A Canada Goose … and a Turtle. There was slightly more water three weeks ago but the drought was already affecting everyone.

There’s still always a chance to see a Bald Eagle fly over.

Here is a distant Black-Throated Green Warbler that I missed a closer view of while talking to two photographer friends – I was blocked by a tree and thought they were taking pictures of the Palm Warbler I had in the photographs above.

It’s hard not to feel a little disappointed that I have not made it to the Magic Hedge – Montrose – on the lakefront, where as many as 28 warbler species were seen last Saturday. There were also as many as 40 birders. It used to be daunting enough to drive and park when I wanted to go on occasion, and now parking meters are being installed with likely few other options if you don’t find a space. I suppose there are other ways to get to Montrose safely with optics but they all contain extra expense (like an Uber). I would endure public transportation but not with all my gear. I will have to be satisfied with whatever the places I visit have to offer. Birds can still show up anywhere. I hope next year I will not be constrained by my current schedule, and barring any more accidents, I will be able to go out more. Maybe even make a trip to the Magic Hedge.

That said, we are in the 80’s thru Tuesday with a brief drop into the 70’s after that – and praying for rain. I intend to get out early tomorrow for a cloudy walk and see what I can see.

At home, my Zebra Finches are bored with me sitting on the futon working. Up until today I was wearing something they could play with, but today my legs are bare and my half-socks are uninteresting at best. The air conditioning has already come on a couple times to keep us at 79 degrees which is made more comfortable by a couple fans blowing. Summer Mode.

Hints of Spring

I keep updating this post because I haven’t gotten around to finishing it. So before it becomes completely ancient history… this is from the beginning of the month of April. Still this year…! It was Saturday, the 3rd, and it started out a bit chilly but by midday we were experiencing summer temperatures which stretched into the weekend and beyond. Since there was plenty of sunshine I made sure I got out both weekend mornings. I visited the Portage on Saturday and McGinnis Slough on Sunday.

I have since been back to the Portage, last weekend just to get out – it was barely drizzly and very cloudy, so I did not get a lot of action. But we have since burst into more green and buds and flowers and the feeling is spring, full speed ahead. That visit will follow if I can get my act together.

I have not been able to discern whether a pair of geese are actually nesting at the Portage. Unlike previous years I haven’t seen any territorial fights breaking out.

If nothing else there were a lot of Northern Flickers. Not close enough to get great shots but I did manage to focus on them from a distance. They certainly were making a lot of noise.

Also taking advantage of the sunlight was a Northern Cardinal singing away above me.

Just before I left, a Red-Tailed Hawk decided to fly over and show off.

Something about the shape of the tree below and the clouds behind it captured my imagination.

Here’s another brief look at the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet at the top of the post. Oddly enough it was the only one I saw that day, although I heard a few more. They are usually good curious sports, albeit lightning quick ones.

One turtle and a couple Mallards – not a lot going on.

A Killdeer flew over, confirming I had actually heard at least one.

Barely hints of green among the ghosts…

Nothing like ducks and Duckweed… the smallest flowering plant on earth. I don’t know that I will ever get close enough to see the flowers.

The best bird of the day was the one I barely spotted flitting about as I sat on the bench near the parking lot, at the end of my walk – an Eastern Phoebe. Not a great photo, it was so far away. But I am always thrilled to see flycatchers return.

I am going to try to report back before ultimate migration madness takes over. I will go out this weekend for sure – I don’t know how much sunshine I can count on – and the winds have been blowing from the wrong direction lately. But there is no rain in the forecast

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.