Feeling Warmer in the Sun

I went to the Chicago Portage on Monday morning, the last time we had full sunshine, and I met a lot of birds and some people too. It was cold, but the sunshine gave a little bit more than the illusion of warmth. In all it was good to go slowly and watch the birds, but I took way too many photographs. I wonder how I will manage to get through warbler migration at this rate.

After stopping and talking to some people on the trail and mentioning that Golden-crowned Kinglets had started showing up when they asked me if there was anything new, I encountered about half a dozen of the birds and managed to capture one who volunteered for a lot of clicks.

It was almost worth it to memorialize the blue sky background.

Somewhere next to the trail by some spindly young hackberry trees I saw this very thorny plant that had the only green leaves in the entire preserve. I am not familiar with this at all. I welcome identification from any botanists out there.

I kept waiting for this Northern Flicker to fly so I might capture its golden shafts but it was definitely not going anywhere.

I never know when I will see a pair of Northern Cardinals. In this case I think she was waiting for him.

I spent the longest time behind this bird photographing it without identifying it. Backlit and alone on the path in front of me, it seemed unfamiliar. I have now decided it’s a Brown-headed Cowbird. I think I have never seen one in the cold before – in other words, it was so fluffed up I couldn’t recognize it.

There are a few American Goldfinches at the Portage. Here’s one, early on in my walk, looking rather cold.

If you stood in the right spot on the trail where I suspect asphalt will be going in, it was possible to see American Tree Sparrows everywhere. At some point one sat and started singing, and I tried to record him over a lot of noise. I did manage to get a couple recordings, as faint as they are, and they are below this photograph. I heard one singing earlier this year and compared it to the recording on my Sibley cell phone app which was made in Alaska, where they breed.

I did manage to take too many pictures of American Tree Sparrows fading into their surroundings.

I almost forgot, a Killdeer landed in the marsh and this was the best I could do through the vegetation.

I was delighted to find a Fox Sparrow in my photographs. I don’t remember taking these pictures. My camera remembered well, though.

I couldn’t help but notice the duckweed staging a comeback.

Messing around in the marshy area were a few female Red-winged Blackbirds.

And I was taken with this pretty little Song Sparrow.

On the way out, I saw the pair of Eastern Bluebirds again, only this time there was better light. They were quite far away for the most part but I tried to at least capture some of that blue.

The closer photos were of the female who is drabber in plumage but I think she is lovely nonetheless.

Perhaps the birds of the day were the American Tree Sparrows. I suspect that with the warmer winds we are now experiencing, they will be moving up north and this could have been the last time to see them.

I was going to add some photographs from March 15 – but other than the fact that it was not a sunny day, which clashes with the theme, this seems like quite enough for now. It’s rainy today and we have one more rainy day tomorrow, so I am going to try to finish taking care of some things that I keep putting off and I will be back as soon as I can get it together.

One more of the Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Three Portage Visits

There has been a Lesser Scaup at the Chicago Portage for over a week. I first saw him on March 4 and have seen him on every visit since, including this morning. He seems to be content to hang out and has managed to evade predation. I find him an irresistible subject, even if most of the time he is somewhat far away.

This is a rather long post encapsulating what transpired on my walks at the Portage on the 4th, the 8th and the 10th of March. Immediately below are more photos of the Lesser Scaup from March 4 when I first discovered him.

The 4th was the first time I heard and saw male Red-winged Blackbirds here.

European Starlings are usually way at the top of the trees across the stream from where I am standing, but these two surprised me by being on my side for a change.

Robins are starting to return to the Portage and my neighborhood. They just started singing.

There wasn’t a lot happening on March 4, but it was a sunny day at least.

This young deer was too close and fearless.

Then on March 8, things were a bit more interesting. It started with Downy Woodpeckers chasing around.

I hadn’t gone too far before I saw what I believe to be the local pair of Bald Eagles perched on the electric utility structure. I can’t remember the last time I saw them here but it seems like at least two years.

When I got a bit closer, there was only one eagle perched. I then saw the other flying close by.

It was a beautiful morning.

I kept taking photos of this Red-winged Blackbird as he sang. I don’t know why I have them all here, he didn’t change his position much. But you can hear what he sounded like below.

Song Sparrows could be seen foraging on the ground near the trail.

The Lesser Scaup was present.

On my way out, I encountered three young, lost-looking deer.

And then out on the front lawn, a dead doe that had been ravaged by some beast, likely a coyote. I suspect it was the parent of the three youngsters. I decided to spare you the gorier photos on my cell phone.

As I walked to my car I encountered two Cook County Forest Preserves workers who had come to investigate and clean up. When I drove by about twenty minutes later after running an errand close by, the lawn had been cleared of the carcass.

I began making a connection in my mind between the feeding of the deer and this terrible incident and decided to talk to the man who has been distributing peanuts the next time I saw him.

So I went back to the Portage on March 10. It was a cloudy day and pretty cold.

Sometimes an American Robin will just stare me down.

The Lesser Scaup was still there.

The views that always catch my eye, looking pretty much the same two days later.

An adult Bald Eagle flew over in the distance.

Everybody was down on the ground looking for food, including two White-breasted Nuthatches. I think the one on the tree is a female and the one on the path the male. I wonder if he was going after what looked to me like part of a peanut on the trail.

I was still able to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

And a distant Common Merganser was in the Des Plaines River when I walked through the hole in the fence for a quick look.

There’s a grassy area that leads to the parking lot straight off the trail, but I rarely walk through there. I stood and watched from a distance as several American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows foraged. The American Tree Sparrows are directly below.

And here are some Song Sparrows.

For a direct comparison, below is an American Tree Sparrow on the left and two Song Sparrows. Whenever I start to confuse Song Sparrows with other streaky sparrows, I always look for the noticeable dark malar which is in the cheek-throat area.

Squirrels don’t often tempt me to photograph them but this one was available, so I did.

On the way out, the orphans again seemed too close.

One more of the singing Red-winged Blackbird.

As it happens, I did run into the man feeding wildlife on March 10, and talked with him. He did not appear to be feeding at that moment, his hands were in his jacket pockets. He said he was aware of the rules and that once even the Forest Preserve police said to him, “You’re not feeding wildlife, are you? Because if you are I will give you a ticket.” Obviously that didn’t stop him. In fact, he told me he was the one who called the police about the dead doe. He also told me that she had had a broken leg, which he surmised may have been from an automobile encounter. I told him that he wasn’t helping the deer but in fact might be harming them as they have lost their wariness of humans and perhaps other dangers. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said he was only feeding for the next couple weeks, it was going to warm up and they would have new growth to eat. Plus he was running out of peanuts. He also went off on some inane tangent about there being too many deer and wondered if “they” cull them.

So there doesn’t seem to be much one can do about him. If I see a Forest Preserve police I can approach, I will talk try to ask about it, just to enquire, but I suspect they don’t seem to think there’s anything they can do either. The police do not stay long at any location but move around from one to the next, and I don’t think they are interested in sitting around waiting for the peanut feedr to give him a ticket.

Spring presses on. I will be back soon.

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.

Falling Back

Blizzard conditions are keeping me inside and I am tired of winter, so now I have some photographs from last September 16 at the Chicago Portage.

Before I continue, here’s what it looked like yesterday late afternoon in my yard. The birds quickly got over their spring fever and came back to the feeders in the driving snow.

The sun is shining almost too brightly this morning and the freshly-fallen snow is reflecting it. After putting the feeders back out and shoveling the accumulation that was left, I was not eager to go out for a walk in the bitter cold. I will get enough cold tomorrow at the Gull Frolic.

Back in September, there were some fall warblers, like the Nashville Warbler below complementing the Goldenrod.

Even the “regulars” looked better in September.

Cedar Waxwings were all over the pokeberries.