Cold, Snowy January – Part 2

Missing whatever nice, sunny weather during the week, I was determined to get out sometime over the three-day weekend when it wasn’t raining or snowing, so Monday the 18th was my only possible choice for a visit to the Portage. There may have been no snow but there was no light either. Although the sun was trying.

My attention is always drawn to this tree stump as I walk into the Portage and it’s become iconic, so expect to see it again.

Not surprisingly, Canada Geese were on the move.

Nothing like black and white birds and no light. With the exception of the touch of red on the male Downy, I could have taken these pictures without color… Well, the Chickadee does have a little beige to him.

The White-Breasted Nuthatch was so far away, this was the best shot I could get of him – upside down behind a branch.

It’s been hard to get motivated to go very far these days, but I do think next month I should try to venture a little farther as the days grow longer, at least. Until then, I don’t mind negotiating these snowy paths because they’re familiar.

The snow at least provided some light and contrast to the terrain.

You can’t see them, but trust me, there were Goldeneyes in the Des Plaines River.

So the water is frozen now and even the two ducks gave up. I did see a Mallard come in for a landing early on, but I never located it, so it must have taken off later. The only other thing I remember about this visit is one male House Finch singing his head off atop a tall tree way over on the other side, of course, so I couldn’t get his picture, but he filled up the otherwise quiet visit with hopeful sound.

I will be back with Part 3 shortly. I don’t want to imagine Part 4… We are anticipating a major snow storm. The radar looks pretty frightening. Luckily I don’t have to go anywhere today.

Cloudy Days and the Christmas Bird Count

I participated in the Christmas Bird Count on December 19th. It was a cloudy, cool day. Not great for photographs, or for a lot of birds either, at least where I was, but it was good to see more people participating. I took both cameras with me, not knowing what I expected to do with either one of them.

If I start thinking about how long it has taken me to get back to finishing this post I won’t do it, so strike that thought and keep going. Below is a look at how the Fox River looked that morning.

I started out with the mirrorless and managed to get a rather nice view of this Red-bellied Woodpecker. Actually all the bird pictures in this post were taken with the little camera. I didn’t have to fuss around with adjusting for no light as much.

At some point we had stopped to listen for birds and saw this amazing honeycomb hanging from a tree.

We had Downy Woodpeckers (below) and a Hairy as well.

Hairy Woodpecker

It was almost not worth taking these photos of flying geese but you can appreciate just how dark and gloomy it was.

Learning more tree bark – this is a cherry tree, which the person who identified it said it looks like “potato chips.” I guess.

The fungus on this tree looks like a staircase to me.

The Cedar Waxwings were the most cheerful sight.

It’s hard to motivate myself to do anything beyond the have-to’s, these days. In particular, after the coup attempt – which is hard not to take personally – as much as I want to continue hoping I can exude a positive vibe that will land somewhere it’s needed, it’s hard to fight sheer exhaustion. But this comes and goes in waves. It’s been cold and gloomy too, which does not help. Time to get up and do something! I need to play some piano every day for the birds. Music is life.

I’m adding this White-Breasted Nuthatch that somehow didn’t make it into a Portage post of October pictures. Another mirrorless capture.

I’m not making any promises about when I’ll be back, but sooner or later I’m sure I will. It’s been confusing to be anywhere lately. Everything has a veneer of unreality to it. Maybe it’s just time to start asking the old questions again, even if we still can’t answer them.

Back to Mid-April

In my typical fashion, I have been trying to write this post for the last week and a half. So while we are all wondering how to get through the holidays this year-like-no-other, I feel a sense of loss too, even though I likely would not have had any plans to go anywhere myself. But there’s also a sense of opportunity in any day I really don’t have to think about work.

Even though it was a cool, late spring and in the middle of the pandemic, there’s something oddly comforting these days about looking back.The Portage looks about like this now – no leaves on the trees, everything muted in browns and grays – but the birds are different in appearance, and most of these species have left for the winter. I took way too many photographs on this day, which might explain why it’s taken me seven months to process them. I won’t be doing a lot of explanation…that might take me another seven months. just hope you enjoy the images.

It will be a while before male American Goldfinches look like the one below.

Out over the Des Plaines River that day, there were three Belted Kingfishers flying around. I didn’t do a very good job of capturing them, they were quite far away. But at least one flew close enough to be recognizable.

A returning Song Sparrow
A Blue Jay, blending in with the sky and the barren tree
Waiting to come back to life.

I keep trying to get a decent photograph of the golden shafts on a Flicker and usually fail, but this time I got close.

There were a couple Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with the Mallards.

One Ring-Billed Gull flew over low enough to be identifiable.

Robins started coming back to their territories. The one in the second photograph is barely discernible from the tree it’s in.

Of course nothing says spring like the return of Red-Winged Blackbirds.

It was early enough in the morning to encounter a couple deer.

Please forgive me, I took way too many pictures of Golden-Crowned Kinglets. They are all gone now, but it was a joy to see them return in April.

Downy Woodpecker – the Portage’s most numerous resident woodpecker

Here’s a thrush I don’t see often – a Veery.

I took a few too many pictures of this Ruby-crowned Kinglet too, but at least I did get somewhat of a shot at the ruby crown.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker…

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

I am always happy to see a White-Breasted Nuthatch, even though they are with us all year long. I never tire of them.

The light was nice on this Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Brown-headed Cowbirds are…what they are.

The pair of Eastern Bluebirds this year were such a welcome sight. Although I saw them for several weeks, I don’t think they wound up staying to breed. I can only hope they give the Portage a second chance next year.

The first warbler to show up in the spring, and the last to leave in the fall… the trusty Myrtle, or as long as it’s still lumped with Audubon’s (last time I checked), it’s a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

I will be back with more from last spring (!) and some more current observations. I hope you are safe and well, wherever you are. And I hope you continue to find moments of peace and solace. There is still a lot to be thankful for.

Grateful

Not always sure where I’m coming from with one-handed typing, but the slowness with which I have had to express myself has given berth to more measured thoughts, perhaps, and, like bird-watching, there is something almost meditative in it.

Before I stray further, I want to dedicate this post to my dear friend Linda Rios and her husband Ed who got me through my awful post-injury and surgery situation with loving aplomb. It occurred to me after I struggled to finish the last post that I was bereft in my focus and needed to at least acknowledge how much my friends have meant to me during this blotch on my existence.

These photos are from August 29th, mostly taken at the Portage. After I was done there I checked out what the Army Corps of Engineers has done to the part of Ottawa Trail that runs along the Des Plaines River, expecting there wasn’t much to photograph there except for the habitat destruction.

Below, a very cooperative White-breasted Nuthatch.

The Chestnut-sided Warbler below was pretty well-hidden but now that I can’t take any photographs for a while I am glad I managed to get these when I did.

The bird below is a Nashville Warbler.

Red-winged Blackbird

The last of the Baltimore Orioles. I had one visit my feeder later that afternoon…

A juvenile American Robin

There were a few Indigo Buntings still around as late as September 19, which was the first bird walk I led after my surgery. Most of them looked like the two below.

On my way out of the Portage on August 29, I spotted this Cooper’s Hawk who just sat, and sat, and I took way too many pictures expecting that it would do something interesting. I was too exhausted by the time it finally took off.

A little Portage flora – I am always amazed at the height of the trees so maybe the cell phone conveys them somewhat. Then there are parts of the trail that are lined with blooming flowers now – a vast improvement over the burdock from years past.

Juvenile Northern Flicker

So this is what Ottawa Trail is looking like now that the levee has been finished on one side of the Des Plaines. It was relatively devoid of birds but I expected that. Others have told me, though, that the levee affords great looks at the Des Plaines River when there are water birds present, so I shall have to check that out another time.

I was able to capture a few signs of life.

On my way out of Ottawa Trail, over the parking area, a Red-Tailed Hawk flew overhead.

Elbow-wise, the cast is gone, stitches removed, and I have 12 weeks of physical therapy ahead. I actually had one physical therapy session on Friday and was reassured I had chosen the right location when I heard a crow calling as I went back to my car. As I mentioned, I managed to lead bird walks these past two Saturdays and I am so grateful to the participants who showed up and helped me feel alive again. I didn’t master the one-handed binocular skill, but now that I am cast-free, I am able to raise my left arm enough so maybe I can go looking for a few more birds this fall even if I cannot commemorate the sightings in photos. In these uncertain times it’s all the more grounding to continue one’s connection with the natural world.

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.