Cold Storage

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Red-Breasted Mergansers at Saganashkee Slough

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…

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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Horned Grebe, Saganashkee Slough

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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.

Is It Spring Yet?

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

Any prediction of warmer temperatures and sunshine, however brief, is all it takes to make me a little nuts these days, especially if it falls on a weekend. So Sunday I tested the forecast for the last days of March and headed toward the Palos Forest Preserves of Cook County, starting with my favorite, McGinnis Slough.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbirds were singing on territory, but much of the water was still frozen. I managed to see ten species of ducks, including Ring-Necked, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Northern Shoveler, Blue-Winged Teal and Green-Winged Teal, plus American Coots and there was one Trumpeter Swan at the far side of the larger expanse of water.

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Not much in the way of land birds, save a few skittish Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Even the closer ducks at McGinnis’s south end were still too far away to photograph, but that never stops me.

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From McGinnis, I went next to Saganashkee Slough, where American White Pelicans and Common Loon had been reported. I saw neither, but added Red-Breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, White-Winged Scoter, Pin-Tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye to my duck list. There was also a distant Horned Grebe and an immature Bald Eagle soaring over the water. It was even more useless to photograph anything here but I’m still including a picture of a lot of white blobs that were Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls.

Saganashkee Slough

Saganashkee Slough

On the way home, I stopped at The Chicago Portage to see if anything new was going on since last week. It was midday so I didn’t expect to see many birds. But there was a lot of melt and mud.

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And a White-Breasted Nuthatch, heard first and seen at a distance later.

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Also heard before seen, a male Belted Kingfisher. This guy was really far away but the camera saw him. I think this might be the first one I have actually seen at the Portage.

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I decided to capture a close-up of some lichens growing on a dead stump, the only green going on.

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So much for the early spring report, it’s back to finishing going through my Belize pictures. It won’t be long before McGinnis is full of Great Blue Herons like this one. Only the vegetation will look a bit different… 🙂

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Great Blue Heron, Belize 3-12-14

 

From Loons to Parakeets

Common Loon, Saganashkee Slough

Common Loon, Saganashkee Slough

I’d been thinking all week about where to go on Easter Sunday. My friends had been to various haunts all week while I was at work, and I was tempted by their destinations. While I had a general idea where these places were, I had never found some of them on my own before. It was fun to get out the maps Saturday night and plan my “trip.”

My main focus was bodies of water in the Palos area of the Cook County Forest Preserves, where Common Loons had been seen. I started out at Tampier Lake, which is positively sprawling. My first bird there was a Song Sparrow, doing what Song Sparrows do best.

Song Sparrow, Tampier Lake

Song Sparrow, Tampier Lake

There were a couple loons and dozens of other waterfowl, too distant to photograph, so after I got satisfying scoped views, I headed toward my next stop: Saganashkee Slough, where I was close enough to a Common Loon for the opening photo. Ring-Billed Gulls were everywhere; this one caught a fish.

Ring-Billed Gull, Saganashkee Slough

Ring-Billed Gull, Saganashkee Slough

Saganashkee is a long, strung-out body of water that covers a large area. After I counted all the birds I could see, I headed to Maple Lake, a smaller, contained lake surrounded by woods. I saw two more Common Loons there and distant views of Redheads and Scaup. Mentally, I was taking notes for future visits to all these places.

I stopped at The Little Red Schoolhouse which has a nature center. Families were out in the cool but sunny weather. After walking part of a short trail, I found this Red-Headed Woodpecker near the parking lot.

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Though he gave me many excellent poses when he was exposed on the open limb above, I like the way he looks best behind the few twigs below. The twig cover is probably when, and why, he let me get closer to him.

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There were a couple Brown-Headed Cowbirds strutting their stuff too.

Brown-Headed Cowbirds, Little Red Schoolhouse

Brown-Headed Cowbirds, Little Red Schoolhouse

My last destination was a power company substation in northwest DuPage County where Monk Parakeets had taken up residence. We used to have a flock locally but I haven’t seen Monks for quite a while in my neighborhood. Time to see some green birds.

I didn’t find them immediately, so I took a walk into a small section of Churchill Woods that runs next to a nearby open space. Besides a Red-Tailed Hawk,

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and a Turkey Vulture,

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I had my first-of-year Eastern Phoebe.

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Eastern Phoebe

The section of Churchill Woods below reminds me a little bit of the Portage.

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The Red-Bellied Woodpecker below reminds me of the first time I ever saw one of them. The scarlet shade of red on its head is so distinctive.

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Churchill Woods had its own number of Song Sparrows, this one foraging in dried stalks.

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As I headed back toward my car, I heard the Monk Parakeets. They were flying into the trees along a dirt road that runs between the substation and the forest preserve. At first they came to taunt me, and then when I told them my friend had sent me, they flew in closer to check me out.

Monk Parakeet, DuPge County

Monk Parakeet, DuPage County

Except for the guy behind me in a monster SUV–whose foot must have slipped off the brake pedal as we were waiting for the stop light to change, jolting my bumper (except for a little lost paint, car and driver are okay)–it was a pretty perfect day.