October at the Portage

Fox Sparrow

A brief but driving squall of freezing rain in the yard yesterday morning supported my decision to not go for a walk. More snow and wind on the way today. A good day to take stock of my indoor life.

Yesterday morning also produced a brief sighting of a Cooper’s Hawk and the appearance of the large gray tomcat I scolded out of the yard as I was refilling the birdbaths before the rain started. I have perhaps 30 or more gallons of water stored in the basement and my rain barrels are still quite full. But we are due for more serious overnight freezing temperatures so I have made this my outdoor project for the weekend, draining the rest of the water and covering up the rain barrels for the winter. If predictions prove correct, we will be getting a little preliminary snow that won’t accumulate but will get us in the mood for winter.

These photographs are from October 17. I was not too surprised to discover I hadn’t processed many of them. I did find another confusing fall warbler which I didn’t report. It appears to be a first-year likely female Black-throated Blue Warbler (below).

Much easier to recognize and still pretty plentiful were Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The bird immediately below appears to have fused with the hackberry leaves.

Then there were the tree-climbing Yellow-rumpeds…

I don’t know why it’s been so hard to get a decent picture of a White-throated Sparrow, but I keep trying.

The Song Sparrow below was a more accommodating.

And another Song Sparrows popping up from the vegetation…

A reminder of how dry it still was in mid-October.

In general, Ruby-crowned Kingets were less prevalent than the Golden-crowned this fall.

Then House Finches started to emerge…

A well-seen Hermit Thrush below…

A momentarily present Northern Cardinal…

Below is an Orange-crowned Warbler… I have yet to see the orange crown on any of these but from what I understand it is barely visible.

Woodpeckers!

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

It was not easy to get a picture of the Brown Creeper below but this is just further testament to how often I saw at least one almost every time I went out.

And then there were the almost daily White-tailed Deer…

European Starlings were exceptionally striking in the light that day.

I finally broke down and started cleaning up my second bedroom yesterday. It will likely take me the rest of the year – but it’s a wonderfully freeing thought as I plow through an accumulation of treasures and junk. The first and most important motivation seems to be organizing and having one place for all the camera equipment. But hot chocolate seems more important at the moment…

Water Returns to McGinnis Slough

This will be brief. I went to McGinnis Slough last Sunday to see if maybe I might be present when some Sandhill Cranes were flying over, or just in general to see what the water levels were like. All the rain had made a difference. Where there was no water to be seen before, now the slough looks like a slough again.

No Sandhills flew over. Indeed, not much was flying.

I saw my last Yellow-rumped Warblers of the season.

Red-winged Blackbirds linger.

I’m always happy to see a Pied-billed Grebe.

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A Northern Cardinal blended in well with the leaves turning red.

This Song Sparrow wasn’t interested.

It was best to see water again.

For the most part, there were perhaps 200 American Coots scattered all over the slough. They were quite distant, however.

I’m running out of room on the hard drive again so I will be back soon with lots more.

Down by the River After the Rain

These photos are from two visits to the Riverside trail on October 20 and 27 – both after periods of some significant rain. Although the Des Plaines is nowhere near flood stage, it is good to see it looking more like a river.

Activity around the Hofmann Tower on 10-20 consisted of two flock bursts – the expected Rock Pigeons and also a flock of Blackbirds, mostly Red-Winged.

I saw an Orange-crowned Warbler on both occasions.

Below is a Nashville Warbler I saw on the 20th.

It was hard to get a good photo of this Double-Crested Cormorant through the trees but still nice to see on the 20th. I saw one flying a week later and wonder if it was the same bird…

It’s somewhat easier to get Northern Cardinals to sit still for a photo this time of year. As long as they feel somewhat shielded by a twig…

I saw Brown Creepers on both occasions, and was lucky to photograph this one on the 27th.

A Mallard here and there…

European Starlings are in groups, as usual.

One of those Red-winged Blackbirds still hanging around.

Below on the left is the sign posted at either end of the trail in Riverside that runs along the river. On the right is a sign opposite the western end of said trail, which denotes the Plank Road Meadow which features a boat launch.

House Finches are more visible now.

A tree full of Mourning Doves…

I expect to see more White-Throated Sparrows, but managed to capture only the one below.

I was going to simply add the photo directly below and call it a Tennessee Warbler – even though the face looked a little suspect to me. Then this morning when I flipped over the Audubon calendar hanging over the kitchen sink to November, the photograph of the bird on it looked like the one below, only it was identified as a Pine Warbler. So I took out The Warbler Guide to confirm – because now it was showing up as “rare” on my ebird checklist – and went to the bill shape again. That’s what made the face of this bird not look at all like a Tennessee.

Just to elaborate, I rescued the photos below from my external hard drive and found a few more clues to the Pine Warbler identification. There’s ever-so-slightly a hint of wing-bar showing on a couple photographs, but best of all is the one I brightened up a bit, where the bird is looking directly at me. That’s a Pine Warbler face if I ever saw one. I have to be more careful going through all these photos!

Below is a lovely little Song Sparrow.

The remaining Great Blue Heron is not as visible now from the bridge.

Catalpa tree seed pods on the left, and well-eaten Pokeweed on the right.

An American Robin for good measure…

Not sure whose web this is but I found it interesting.

I saw the Red-tailed Hawk flying below before it landed in the tree.

A few more scenes of this location as the late fall progresses.

We are flirting with overnight freezing temperatures. Indeed, this morning I had to scrape the frost off the windows of the car before I went for a walk at the Portage. Today I will be draining as much water as I can store into empty vinegar gallon bottles, to be used in the now-heated birdbaths all winter.

And as the days get shorter and I see fewer birds… take fewer photographs… maybe I can start revisiting the reason why I started this blog in the first place: my fascination with bird song and the birds’ reactions to music. For the moment, I would like to share with you a funny incident I happened to record way back on August 29th. I was playing piano – I have been revisiting Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” – and perhaps that day it had become a bit of drudgery – I was likely distracted by the fact that my effective retirement date was 2 days off. In any event, I struck a wrong chord while playing the 9th piece of it (“Ritter vom Steckenpferd”) and my indoor crowd IMMEDIATELY let me know that was not acceptable. Which not only proves they were right, but also that they are always listening! Below is the clip. Enjoy. 🙂

Great Blue Heron

Sundays at McGinnis – Part 2

As promised, here’s my last visit to McGinnis Slough. I have been out birding every morning since, mainly at the Chicago Portage but a couple other places too, and fall passerine migration is in full swing. I don’t know if I will ever get through all my photographs, but I intend to start posting them soon as much as possible.

It was delightful to spend a little time with a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher at McGinnis.

This Song Sparrow perched nicely for me.

Another bird I felt very privileged to see well was the Marsh Wren below. I could hear wrens in the reeds but they are always nearly impossible to see. Then, while I stood in the same spot looking at whatever waterfowl I could see, this one popped out in a bush to get a closer look at me.

I also saw a Brown Thrasher – a bird I used to see a lot more of but now rarely. And then my first Palm Warbler of the fall season.

A few more of the Marsh Wren…

Finally, a cooperative flower. It appears to be a hibiscus. But I am used to seeing the big pink rose mallow flowers that bloom here every year and they have been few and far between.

More views of the American Redstart that is at the top of the post.

I wonder if the slough will ever have enough water again to host the hundreds of ducks that usually show up in the early spring.

Common Green Darner

Tall Boneset is now blooming with the Canada goldenrod.

Several Barn Swallows took a break from scooping bugs out of the air…

And there was one lone Tree Swallow.

I managed to barely see the Trumpeter Swans – and noticed there was only one Cygnet. I fear the other two did not survive. I suppose the likeliest predator would be a coyote.

Peter Mayer has just written a beautiful song called “Trumpeter Swans” which I have already listened to maybe a hundred times…

The Herons were all hanging out in what little water is left.

And I caught a Wood Duck in flight.

I was a little surprised to see Northern Shovelers.

These fuzzy-looking acorns caught my eye. They are not acorns. They are called “hedgehog galls” and are formed by wasps.

Northern Crescent

This Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher is probably halfway to its winter home by now.

Okay. I hope to be back very soon with a feast of warbler photographs. There have been other interesting birds too. Thanks for checking in!

Goose Lake Prairie

Cragg’s Cabin

I missed my annual visit to this place on the July 4th weekend. Then two Sundays ago, I decided to see what it looked like two weeks later. Weather conditions were favorable and I had no other plans, so it seemed like a good thing to do after I psyched myself up for the nearly hourlong drive. How spoiled I have become zipping over to the Portage in five minutes every weekend.

I got my yearly Dickcissel fix…

I don’t know why I have never bothered to look at the signs before but this time I paid more attention to them. The one below, however, is the only one the birds did not decorate. The rest, which explained more about the plants and the history of the place, were too messy to include here.

The parking lot was empty. However I was greeted by a Killdeer. If I remember correctly, there was a Killdeer here last time I visited. I suspect they nest near the Visitor Center. Also below is a recording from the parking lot.

I always count on seeing and hearing Dickcissels here and I was not disappointed. Except there seemed to be fewer individuals to photograph. The one below, perched and singing which is how you normally find them, was still farther away than I would have preferred. The Dickcissel’s song is below the pictures and there is also a Field Sparrow singing in the background.

Field Sparrows are lovely little birds and I was happy to see and hear them.

I got a closer look at this Field Sparrow with a worm.