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.

Mellow Yellow

I went up to Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County over the Memorial Day weekend to see if I could get any closer looks at Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Unfortunately, due to the drought, the birds were too far away from the trail side or the viewing platform. But I did get some nice looks at Yellow Warblers.

The easiest bird to capture, of all things, was Willow Flycatcher. I can remember having a hard time seeing these guys whenever we heard them years ago on our birding class walks – but at this location I can always count on seeing them well.

It was so hot and dry, this Killdeer looked desperate.

On the wooded part of the trail I spotted a Red-Eyed Vireo.

Even the Red-winged Blackbirds didn’t feel much like showing off.

I think this must be a female Red-winged Blackbird taking in some shade.

A Green Heron flew by.

I will never tire of seeing Sandhill Cranes, and there were two.

So I’ve been kind of in perpetual motion, or so it seems. Last Saturday’s Berwyn Historical Society inaugural Garden Walk was great fun. I never considered that I was doing much planning or had any theme at all for my backyard but it stood out because of all the trees I planted almost 20 years ago. People were calling it a sanctuary! Who in their right mind plants a small forest in a postage-stamp sized yard? I didn’t want the grass that was there, and I wanted birds, so I planted trees, especially as they were offered to me by the Arbor Day Society the moment I moved in. In retrospect, I’m even happier I did this because I lost the original Ohio Buckeye years ago – so I could have been without any trees at all.

The week in preparation for the walk was hot and somewhat hectic but I loved working outside in the yard almost every day. I also had fun discovering the names of many plants I had never managed to identify. Best of all was the day itself. I had a fabulous time talking to people and in the process learned more about myself and my gardens. Maybe it wasn’t so haphazard after all. I look forward to having the time to really take care of the yard through all the seasons and continue to learn what the plants can teach me.

I will be back. I haven’t been birding for over a week, but I did manage to visit the Portage a couple times prior to the garden walk. Now we are in line for thunderstorms, making up for some of the rain we didn’t get in April, so that might curtail my birding activity this weekend. Life goes on, sometimes to my amazement.

Finally, Pine Siskins

After reading about the irruption of Pine Siskins for weeks, I kept wondering how I could have possibly missed seeing them. The species showed up in my yard for the first time in January of this year and I fondly remembered their cheery presence. I thought I might have seen one or two last week but I couldn’t be sure, and had to discount it as wishful thinking. Then last Sunday morning as I stood on the back porch, there they were. Only two of them, but they were all I needed to restore my faith in something. They didn’t stay long. Maybe they were playing hooky from some large flock somewhere.

The House Sparrows outnumber everybody else, of course.

Last Saturday was the first time I dared go out with my usual camera setup. The camera weighs two pounds and the lens is another three and a half. It doesn’t sound like a lot of weight but it’s dense and massive. Then there’s the issue of adjusting the focus with my left hand. My fingers are still slightly swollen and stiff, and I can’t maneuver entirely without pain. But I am in the painful stage of physical therapy now so I may as well enjoy my suffering and take pictures.

I had come to see if there were Sandhill Cranes – and there were, a few – but the skies were dominated by Canada Geese. Unfortunately the owners of the surrounding farms were hunting them. I didn’t see any fall from the sky but I wasn’t looking either, it was bad enough to hear the gunshots. Something else to think about when I visit this place in the fall.

Canada Geese

Some flora caught my eye.

The first two birds I saw on the trail going in were Cedar Waxwings.

A burning bush?

It was nice to see this young White-crowned Sparrow.

So there were some Sandhills. I won’t be able to get back up there this year to see hundreds or thousands that sometimes come through, but I did have a good time talking with a crane enthusiast who visits there a lot and knows their habits. He said he was waiting for a big push of cold weather from Wisconsin and that would bring down a lot of cranes. He is hoping to see a Whooping Crane this year.

Not a lot of land birds but it was a beautiful morning. I was surprised to see the Blue Jay arrive and announce himself, and pose for a couple pictures.

I always see Crows here and that makes me happy.

Below are the last pictures I took the previous Saturday morning at the Portage, with the mirrorless camera. It takes nice photographs, but I haven’t figured out how to get it to focus all the time.

So I was frustrated when I saw the Blue-headed Vireo below so well, but I couldn’t get the camera to see it as clearly as I did.

My closest shot of one of the Sandhills from Goose Lake Natural Area…

Between work, physical therapy, waking up to this, that, or the other pain, trying not to let the news cycle interrupt a deeper thought process, there have been moments of peace and flashes of contentment, even a little creativity. I have missed seeing more birds and autumn color. This is usually my favorite time of year. I am looking forward to setting the clocks back so there will be more light in the morning. My indoor birds are good sports. They are helping me write a song about looking for an answer to a question I haven’t figured out yet.

Sandhills at McGinnis

Two weekends ago I went to McGinnis Slough. A bit later than I’d planned… weekends seem to be getting away from me, and I just can’t seem to get up and out very early. I arrived at the slough around 8:30 AM, so it was still cool. The moment I got out of the car everything else became irrelevant when I saw two Sandhill Cranes standing in the overlook area that juts out toward the slough from the parking lot. I didn’t want to disturb them, so as I started to walk toward the south end, I took pictures at a considerable distance. But later after they had left, I found the two feathers in the grass, above. I arranged the feathers a bit to photograph them and left them there. Once upon a time I collected a feather or two, but I have never done anything purposeful with them and it’s frustrating to inadvertently find them later collecting dust or stuck inside a book or…

Below is what the slough looked like. Overgrown and marshy. Very different from the flooded trails of my last visit.

Walking away from the Sandhills, there were some Wood Ducks at the south end.

I’m always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly, but then am saddened by the fact that I hardly ever see more than one anymore, anywhere.

There were plenty of dragonflies. Blue Dashers are still plentiful and posing this summer.

Below is an Eastern Pondhawk. I don’t think I’ve photographed one before.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are still a presence everywhere.

And it was nice to see Baltimore Orioles.

Some more Red-Wingeds. Those red epaulets really stand out in flight.

Red-Tailed Hawks. Flying together…chased by blackbirds…soaring.

And there were a few Blue Jays who were not camera-shy for a change. This one seemed to think the picnic table might have some promise.

American Goldfinches, so plentiful earlier in the year, are a bit scarce, but I attribute that to the fact that they are late breeders and likely consumed by nesting duties.

American Goldfinch (female)

I was unable to capture a dragonfly on these roses but they turned out to be attractive by themselves.

A glimpse of a Green Heron…

and a Great Egret. There were a few Great Blue Herons but they were too far away.

So that’s my little report from McGinnis. I’ll try to go back there before I leave for my trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan in just a few weeks. But I’m still not done with the Texas trip! And I have to find a new bird care person for the indoor crowd, which is not so easy these days. Sigh.

Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski

This is my last day of the long weekend before I go back to work tomorrow. However, going back might be more of a challenge than usual. There is purportedly a blizzard approaching. The radar confirms this, I’m afraid. And although it will start out as rain this morning, apparently overnight it will turn into a raging onslaught of wind and snow, and the thought of waking up to that, trying to shovel myself out and walking to the train which, given the failing infrastructure, may or may not be running – I’m putting off reality as long as I can.

So-called Black Friday, the day we went to see the Sandhill Cranes, was perfect, if cloudy weather. By perfect, it was not cold. Usually this is a more-than-frigid outing. And the wind is always present as nothing stops it for miles out in the middle of flat fields. But I left my long underwear at home and never regretted it.

Red-Tailed Hawk

On our way, not far from Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, which is where Lesa and I were to find the Sandhill Crane viewing platform, we made a wrong turn, and sure enough, there was a hawk sitting on a power line, so we got out and took a look. Facing us he looked extremely light-colored with a dark head, so we weren’t sure what he was. Of course he flew, but when he did, his red tail gave him away. He then landed in a tree, moved again and we got some good looks. 

We got back in the car and headed toward our destination. When we arrived, a few people were already on the platform or wandering around. The cranes had not started coming in yet. We had seen some fairly close in the farm fields as we drove but the farm roads had no shoulder to pull off on, and we might have startled the birds anyway. The huge area at Jasper-Pulaski was empty except for a herd of grazing deer. The cranes were due to approach at sundown. We waited. And waited. On a cloudy day it’s even harder to tell when sundown occurs. But then, the birds started streaming in. And so did the people coming to watch them.

It was difficult to get a close shot of any of them, compared to visits from previous years, and the lack of light was a challenge, but I really can’t complain. Seeing these birds in such great numbers and hearing their calls gives me a measure of hope for their future and ours.

There was a distant Whooping Crane that I could barely capture with the camera, and enlarging the photograph doesn’t help much but you can use your imagination. If nothing else, this is a very small segment of the crowd on the ground. Someone posted on ebird a count of 24,000 for the flock that day.

This is my first attempt at writing a post in the new editor format of WordPress. I was quite comfortable with the old format. I don’t know why software designers feel like they have to keep “improving” things but maybe it’s just as well…I suppose the ability to go with the flow and respond productively to change is all that matters lately. Whatever it is, it seems like I can’t go back to the old format, so I better get used to this now.

Here are a few more shots. And a scan with my point-and-shoot and a very short video at the end, just trying to get a sense of the immensity of it all.

Here’s the video, such as it is. More amazing is that I figured out how to get it into this post.

Here They Come

Sandhill Cranes over the Chicago Portage 3-15-15

Sandhill Cranes over the Chicago Portage 3-15-15

I was pretty sure the migrating Sandhill Cranes were on their usual schedule: flying over Monday-Friday, during banker’s hours, while I was stuck sitting in the office. Of course I read about them constantly on the IBET which added to my frustration. But the warm southerly winds that have been prevailing all week were going strong yesterday and I decided to visit McGinnis Slough, even though no one has submitting any ebird sightings since November, and then check back again at the Chicago Portage (I may do a post later, in my backward fashion, about last week’s visit which I never managed to publish).

Things are heating up almost everywhere, actually. At work, we’re busy. I’m getting ready mentally for my trip to Colombia which is only 12 days away. I’m meeting with my new bird care person who I suspect is falling in love with the birds, which is probably a requirement if you’re going to fuss over them as much as I do. And it seems to be taking more energy this year to get over winter, but I think that’s about to change.

McGinnis Slouth

McGinnis Slough

Ice at McGinnis

Ice at McGinnis

McGinnis is still under ice. I took the scope with me just in case but ended up leaving it in the car. Nevertheless I had enough gear. I’ve been testing out my wide angle lens which was repaired last week (over a year since I dropped it in the steel-bottomed vehicle in Africa) because I figure it’s small enough to take with me to the Andes and it might be very nice indeed to have handy for a breathtaking vista or two. And I’m also using the extender on the Canon 100-400mm lens, to see just what it’s capable of. I’ll have plenty of time to return to playing around with the monster Tamron lens when I get back.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

But crunching around on the frozen tundra produced a few of the most predictable early birds. I had already seen Red-Winged Blackbirds downtown in Lurie Garden so I knew they would be returning to their territories everywhere else. Song Sparrows may have even slightly preceded them. And Dark-Eyed Juncos? Did they ever leave? They have been here all winter, and predictably they disappear in the spring, but I wonder if some may hang out all year long.

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Dark-Eyed Junco, McGinnis

Dark-Eyed Junco, McGinnis

There were no Sandhill Cranes flying over McGinnis, probably because I expected them. Instead, flocks of Canada Geese, in their usual noisy fashion.

Canada Geese over McGinnis

Canada Geese over McGinnis

CAGO McGinnis 3-15-15-1144CAGO McGinnis 3-15-15-1141As I mentioned earlier, I was at the Chicago Portage briefly last weekend. The dominant pair of Canada Geese was there at the time, laying claim to the ice. I suspect it’s the same pair I have seen there for years. In any event, I was a little surprised to see two tagged geese that I am sure I reported last fall – C011 and C016.

C011 and C016 at the Portage

C011 and C016 at the Portage

I am not sure the pair pictured below is the dominant pair, as there were two unbanded pairs yesterday.

CAGO Portage 3-15-15-1291

I was about done counting geese when the first flock of Sandhill Cranes flew over. I heard them coming first, but overhead they were silent.

Sandbill Cranes, Chicago Portage 3-15-15

Sandbill Cranes, Chicago Portage 3-15-15

But before I left, a fight ensued, with the dominant gander attacking C016, and the two banded geese left.

Goose Fight Portage 3-15-15-1406 Goose Fight Portage 3-15-15-1404

Canada Geese again later on the ice, looking triumphant and vigilant

Canada Geese again later on the ice, looking triumphant and vigilant

As luck would have it, while all this was going on, a lone Sandhill Crane flew over quite low, and I think it might have landed if all the fracas wasn’t going on. It kept flying, I suspect to the low-lying parts of the adjacent preserve, Ottawa Trail Woods, where I haven’t been yet this year.

Sandhille Crane Portage 3-15-15-1421

Sandhill Crane, Chicago Portage, 3-15-15

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