Leading Myself

I had been envisioning all week what it would be like, yesterday, to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m. and go through my normal routine of waking up my body, preparing and serving breakfast to my indoor flock, filling the feeders and changing water in the bird baths for the outdoor flock, and then getting ready to leave in time to arrive at Columbus Park and lead a walk that was to start at 7:00 a.m. I don’t organize the walks. I have been asked to “lead” this and other Saturday walks that alternatively go to Thatcher Woods in River Forest through the first Saturday in November. Leading basically means showing up, in case the organizer can’t make it. That will be the end of the “fall migration walks” and the same schedule will restart in April for spring migration.

I made several discoveries yesterday. Perhaps most important was the conclusion that I managed to arrive on time after the organizer had already advised me he couldn’t make it, I had a few moments to spare, which means I might be able to sleep maybe 20 more minutes before Saturday morning’s visit to Thatcher Woods.

So I arrived on time. And started talking to one of the golfers who use the same parking lot for access to the adjacent golf course. And I waited. I watched for cars with people getting out of them bearing binoculars. But all the cars arriving produced golf clubs. I soon came to the conclusion that I was the only person showing up for the walk. Below is a picture of what the sky looked like at that time. Maybe with the combination of clouds and no organizer, I was not enough of a draw.

Those little black dots in the clouds are Chimney Swifts.

I figured I may as well check out the park for birds anyway, all dressed up with my gear as I was, so I started walking across the lawn to the water where there were only a few Mallards. It was still quite cloudy and beyond my desire to compensate for the lack of light.

I confess I was a little leery of walking through the park so early alone. Although it has always been a safe place with others, I was not familiar enough with the spot to feel entirely confident. But then it started to lighten up, and I was hearing birds, and I figured well, I could see what was there. And I’m glad I did, because instead of following a group around – some “leader” I am – I now feel like I actually could lead a walk through Columbus Park.

Below is a video I took with my phone of Chimney Swifts flying over – it starts out mainly hearing them but then when I realized I could zoom in a bit you can actually see them. There’s also a Red-winged Blackbird singing in the beginning, for good measure.

Chimney Swifts

It began to brighten up a little, which helped the photo taking situation. It was difficult capturing the Blackpoll Warbler below in the shady portion of the park, however, but I kept trying.

I agonized over the pictures below as I was sure it was a Bay-breasted Warbler but for some reason ebird insisted it was a rare sighting for this date. I submitted my photographs and so far they have not challenged me.

I wasn’t seeing a lot of birds in the water, so I looked forward to going to the native plant garden next to a portion of it where I would likely see more birds, and I did.

Palm Warblers like the one below were expected.

I haven’t seen a lot of Tennessee Warblers this year – so it was nice to find this one.

And below, a very young-looking American Goldfinch.

On the way out I managed to capture a sneaky picture of a Wood Duck drake through some tangled branches. Also saw the resident Great Blue Heron in a well-camouflaged spot.

One more of the Tennessee Warbler

At 8:30 a.m. I felt as if I had covered the area – even though I missed a raptor I barely saw flying over. I encountered a birder who was waiting on someone to start her walk through, and we exchanged notes. Columbus Park is her go-to spot, like the Portage is mine. She may join us at Thatcher next week. I am no longer dreading these early Saturday morning rises.

I was tired, especially after having gone swimming the night before, so I took a long nap when I got home. But I am glad I managed the early start and stayed for the birds. I’m sure I would have seen more birds if I had company, but I encountered some nice, smiling runners and walkers and felt more connected to Columbus Park, which is really a beautiful place.

Fall Warbler Migration Begins…

The anticipation of seeing more birds after the long, hot summer is part of what has driven me to go out every morning. The other part came later – after doing so a few days in a row, it has occurred to me that I need these long, meditative walks every morning to stay sane.

The idea of retirement will be more than just finally having time to do what I want to do. It’s becoming more of a challenge of self-care and survival. I am becoming fiercely protective of what I have carved out to be Time Spent Not Thinking About Work – which to some degree unfortunately still exists and will lurk on the sidelines until I am finally completely done with it.

The Portage had warblers for three days last week and I took way too many pictures. These were all taken on September 6th. In spite of all the ones I discarded there are still too many. I am grateful for the Ovenbird at the top of this post. I have also become familiar with their cute little “blip” calls and I have heard many more than I have seen.

Magnolia Warbler

“Maggies” (Magnolia Warblers) and Redstarts seemed to be everywhere last week. I am beginning to sense the end of that now.

American Redstarts below.

The bright yellow throat of a Blackburnian Warbler is below.

Mixed among the warblers there have been a significant number of Red-Eyed Vireos like the one below.

Below, a far-away Blackpoll Warbler.

A Black-and-White Warbler blending into the tree bark.

Of course there are other birds besides warblers. Below is a young Gray Catbird.

And the woods have been filled with Thrushes. Below is a Gray-Cheeked Thrush.

Swainson’s Thrushes have been everywhere and every day since.

Swainson’s Thrush

The Thrush below looked like a Hermit Thrush to me but it was way too early. I didn’t feel like challenging my sighting with these photos – I suppose it could be another Swainson’s.

As if you needed more glimpses of the forever moving Redstarts…

Though every once in a while they sit still…

More photos of my one cooperative Ovenbird.

I caught the Starling below just after I got out of my car.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

I was really surprised to find a Golden-winged Warbler in my photos. They aren’t great images but this is a bird I don’t see too often, so it’s worth posting it.

Below is a Tennessee Warbler.

Baltimore Orioles should have been gone by this date but I heard one call and then saw this one later.

Maybe my best bird of that day was the Yellow-throated Vireo below. I particularly love how its blue legs came through.

Way too many birds in one day. I am exhausted trying to finish this post, so I think I will be back sooner with shorter ventures before I dive into the next day.

For what it’s worth we are having our second choir rehearsal in the sanctuary tonight, masked, socially-distanced, and dressed in our black choir attire (to show off our custom-made stoles) – to be videotaped singing for insertion into the Sunday service. A step forward. It’s so good to sing in the ensemble again.

Walking in the Hood

It’s difficult to come to this page after the events of the past week. The Covid-19 depression cycle was insidious enough, but the pain from reopening the festering societal wounds that never heal makes it that much more difficult to rally myself. I started writing a song, the music coming to me over the kitchen sink where I get all my inspiration. I managed to write it down and then, since it is meter-friendly, started writing a few lyrics, but like many things I start and never finish, I don’t know when I will go back to it. At least I have a notebook I can find to write music in: I bought it a week or two ago to start writing down the Zebra Finch songs as they are solidifying. It still fascinates me how it takes years for the males to create and embellish on their songs.

I managed to go back to Goose Lake Natural Area on Saturday morning before the chaos ensued. It was almost like slipping into the fourth dimension if anyone else remembers that Twilight Zone episode. Except that I had to drive an hour and a half to get to another dimension, but I guess that makes it that much more real. I am saving those photographs for a future post.

Black-and-white Warbler

Anyway, about the pictures for this post: about two weeks into working at home I decided that I needed to fit a walk into my daily routine, weather permitting, so I began taking a walk every morning before work, a tame walk by any means encompassing perhaps only a mile, but I could look for birds, particularly as it was spring migration. So I have been going out with binoculars and the camera and settled on a route that gets me out and back in time to go to work without feeling rushed or pressured, and always stopping to check on who’s in the backyard upon my return. The pictures in this post are from one particularly delightful morning roughly two weeks ago when I guess migration was in whatever kind of full swing it was finally coming to. It was overcast which didn’t help too much but the birds were there.

For a week or two, no matter where I was, I was seeing or hearing Chestnut-sided Warblers.
American Robin on her nest

There were not as many White-Crowned Sparrows in the yard this year – I never saw more than one. This particular morning I was lucky enough to capture him. I am convinced he is the same bird whose little syncopated song I heard earlier.

More of the White-breasted Nuthatch at the top of the post.

And here was finally a Black-and-white Warbler who was practically at eye-level, making him easier to capture. This species navigates tree bark like the nuthatch.

Swainson’s Thrush

This might be the only Tennessee Warbler I saw this spring. Certainly the only one I was able to photograph. Usually they are more common and noisy about it. I did manage to capture this one singing a bit.

Northern Cardinal

I missed capturing an Ovenbird in my backyard, but it was likely the same one who was hiding in my apple tree in the front yard, below.

Thanks for visiting. I hope you are doing as well as possible. We all have our own limits, I suppose. I take a short nap when I’m just too tired to continue. But I always feel better getting up and doing something, and my indoor birds provide endless opportunity in that regard. I also revive every time I play music for them. That is how this whole thing started, and it’s turning out to be the one thing that sustains our spirits.

A Few Fall Warblers

Blackpoll Warbler

I’ve been trying to get back to this page for a long time, but between busy weekends and even more hectic workdays, it’s been difficult to even imagine a blog post. Good intentions being what they may, I am resurfacing briefly here with some pictures from last Saturday morning in Columbus Park – before it rained on that day.

Black-and-White Warbler
Palm Warbler
Magnolia Warbler

No less surprising, I suppose, is the fact that I cancelled my walk that was supposed to take place at Thatcher Woods this morning because it was thunderstorming off and on all night and with Thatcher Woods being in a flood plain, even though the rain has stopped, it would still be too challenging to slosh around in the soggy grass looking for bedraggled, wet migrants. Indeed the entire weekend promises to be raining or cloudy. Maybe I can get caught up with some overdue blogging, as it is definitely an indoor pursuit.

Not a warbler, but practically hiding like one.

Fall warblers look a lot less flashy in general than they do in the spring, and it can be a bit challenging to determine who’s who. Luckily I got a lot of observation time with Blackpolls a few years ago when I used to go to Lake Shore East Park so they’re kind of stamped on my brain.

Below is a little video I took with my phone on Tuesday morning, which was beautiful and sunny. I had just stepped out the front door to walk to the train when I heard, and then saw, about six Tennessee Warblers foraging in my front yard which is small but full of native vegetation. They’re not easy to see – watch for movement and then you will see the birds her and there eventually, albeit they are very small! I put this up on Facebook Tuesday but wanted to share again for those who didn’t see it there. I feel like this is a testament to my native plant experiment that seem to get better every year. It’s almost as if the warblers got out their GPS and found “Certified Wildlife Habitat”. 🙂

Fall Migration Continues

RBNU Portage 9-29-18-1399

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

I think fall must be my favorite season at the Chicago Portage. The birds blend in with the autumn colors, the leaves start to fall from the trees and then every once in a while a bird takes a quick leaf-like descent as well. This past Saturday, after my morning commitment to Thatcher Woods where we had scores of Yellow-Rumped and Palm Warblers, I decided to see what was up at the Portage. Below are two of perhaps 100 Robins…

Directly below, two Common Yellowthroats at Thatcher Woods.

I always take a picture of the water, such as it is, at the Portage to document how it changes from season to season…

Portage 9-29-18-1268There is water enough to bathe in as this female Red-Winged Blackbird was finding out.

RWBL Portage 9-29-18-1577

Red-Winged Blackbird (male)

The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below was at Thatcher Woods…

And the Palm Warbler below was at the Portage.

PAWA Portage 9-29-18-1565Tennessee Warblers and Orange-Crowned Warblers often get confused in the spring but these two made it easier for me.

TEWA Portage 9-29-18-1279

Tennessee Warbler

Orange-Crowneds always looks to me like they have a slight eye-ring.

OCWA Portage 9-29-18-1591

Orange-Crowned Warbler

I missed seeing a flashy male Black-Throated Blue Warbler this year but I’m glad to have found a female of the species, wearing her muted fall clothes.

BTBL Portage 9-29-18-1473

Black-Throated Blue Warbler (female)

Blackpoll Warblers in their fall plumage are stamped permanently on my brain after a few years ago when there were many for several days at my old stomping grounds, Lake Shore East Park, so I was delighted to find this lovely individual.

At one point I encountered some workers who were taking down a tree. I spent some time talking to one while another was driving wedges into what was soon to be the stump. It turns out the trees were not birch but white poplar, which is an invasive species and that is why they were removing it. Come to think of it I don’t recall ever seeing a bird in those trees although they had become a landmark and I thought they were rather attractive. After I was given clearance to go beyond the workers, I grabbed two quick clicks in the distance as the tree fell.

For all the Robin activity there were only a few Cedar Waxwings…

My view from the first bridge at the Portage yielded a Mourning Dove and a House Wren.

MODO Portage 9-29-18-1265HOWR Portage 9-29-18-1255I almost thought I had missed all the Indigo Buntings but there were still a few youngsters left.

INBU Portage 9-29-18-1526

Indigo Bunting

NOCA Portage 9-29-18-1510

Northern Cardinal (female)

I was delighted to see a Swainson’s Thrush if only for a moment…

SWTH Portage 9-29-18-1417

Swainson’s Thrush

Eastern Phoebes…

Just starting to see Dark-Eyed Juncos, the harbinger of colder weather coming, I suppose. But after not seeing them all summer I am glad to have them back.

DEJU Portage 9-29-18-1454

Dark-Eyed Junco

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are coming through as well.

YBSA Portage 9-29-18-1405

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

GREG Portage 9-29-18-1318The Des Plaines was so low, this Great Egret was wading out into it quite a ways from the shoreline.

We had a lot of Northern Flickers at Thatcher Woods. Here’s one of them checking out a future home, perhaps.

YRWA Portage 9-29-18-1486

Yes I am a Yellow-Rumped Warbler

And Monarch Butterflies are still migrating. I love the way the Poke Weed looks this time of year. I knew the birds were attracted to it but I guess the Monarchs like it too.

Monarch Portage 9-29-18-1497After hearing and rarely seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees all summer, it was nice to get good looks at this one.

EAWP Portage 9-29-18-1395

Eastern Wood-Pewee

DOWP Portage 9-29-18-1550

This last photograph is of a Downy Woodpecker who was foraging low and obscured by the vegetation but I like the pastel colors.

More to come, I have three more Saturday bird walks, weather permitting. We seem to be entering a rainy spell but from the looks of the Des Plaines last week we can use it.

Suddenly Spring

NOWA 5-1-18-1834

Northern Waterthrush

I almost could have called it “Suddenly This Summer” because on May 1 we skipped spring and went straight into summer temperatures by noon. But along with the sudden push of warm air from the south came a lot of migrating birds, and after all, it was finally the real start to Spring Migration.

As luck would have it I was near the lakefront for the last part of the stem cell procedure on my right knee, which consisted of a blood draw early in the morning and then having a few hours before a return to the doctor’s office for the final injection. I realized the location’s potential the week before when I had the major procedure done. The medical building is virtually right across the street from North Pond, which is a favorite hot spot with lakefront birders. The week before it was blustery and cold with only a few of the hardiest migrants. But now I had a birder in my friend Lesa to whom I am grateful for being my chauffeur for the day. I was walking without crutches if moving slowly, but I was walking, and slow is generally good for birding. The slower you move, the more birds you eventually will see. And seeing birds was a great distraction from whatever pain I was feeling.

Perhaps the first warblers to greet us were four or five Ovenbirds poking about in the grass. Even though the weather was warmer, the trees and accompanying insects had not caught up with it yet and so a lot of birds were foraging on the ground for something to eat. The ground is an Ovenbird’s preferred foraging spot anyway. Ovenbirds can be nearly impossible to see on their breeding grounds, but in migration on the lakefront they are all over the place this year. I have seen them since everywhere I go for midday walks near my workplace.

Then it seemed there were Black-Throated Green Warblers everywhere.

Predictably, especially in the grass, were Palm Warblers. A note about these pictures, being my first warbler photographs of the season. The morning started off a bit overcast, and then I had only my 75-300mm lens as it seemed ridiculous to be carrying around anything larger in my compromised condition, so I didn’t get quite the clarity I wanted for many of these birds. But it was just such a joyous way to spend a medical day and provided an extra therapeutic perk altogether.

I am always so happy to see a Lincoln’s Sparrow. It’s not quite rare, but you never see more than one of them at a time, and they’re such delicate-looking little birds.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were predictable, but not easy to capture as they frantically searched for food.

Our look at the Pine Warbler below was brief, but this is a more unusual species in migration so I am glad I got this shot.

PIWA 5-1-18-1893