Christmas Week at the Portage – Part I

This series of photos is from December 23. I went back on the 26th and will share those photos in a separate post. The weather has since turned a bit more wintry. I decided not to go out today due to early cloud cover and mostly mud – I am getting a bit tired of cleaning the treads of my boots. But I also have so much to do at home that I kept putting off “until I retire” or “until winter” and since I am in both those places, I need to get going on the 20-years-of-accumulated-stuff project.

The sky was dramatic at first but brightened up ever so slightly. There are new piles of chopped wood here and there along the trails. I can only imagine the volunteers were taking care of fallen or about-to-fall trees.

At first this White-breasted Nuthatch was hard to uncover but he came out and made himself known eventually.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been more abundant than I remember, but it could just be that for the sake of getting out more, I have become more attuned to their comings and goings. I was delighted to find the flight sequence in my photos, which I put into the carousel below.

A favorite ground-foraging place these days is the trail, and when I’m lucky and the only person on the trail, I can usually stop and watch the birds for some time.

Song Sparrow and female Northern Cardinal
Another Song Sparrow

I was beginning to think my ears were lying to me because I thought I always heard White-throated Sparrows but I was never seeing them. Then this one posed for a picture.

White-throated Sparrow

Dark-eyed Juncos are also fond of the gravelly trails.

I could barely focus on this somewhat far-away American Goldfinch, but I so love their muted tones this time of year.

It wouldn’t be Christmas week without a male Northern Cardinal.

I’ll be back shortly with the next installment. The days are getting longer…already!

More Sides to the River

Last week, I finally discovered the other side of the Joliet Avenue bridge in Riverside which everybody else, even my non-birder friends, has likely known about. By running a little later than I had planned, I magically encountered two very nice women that morning who offered some interesting history about the river communities. These photographs are from the 10th and the 16th, and I probably should have done two separate posts, again I have too many photographs.

Except for this past Tuesday. I have been trying to settle into somewhat of a Wednesday routine, going for a walk along the Des Plaines River, then on to the health club for a midday swim so I am free for choir rehearsal in the evening. The pool tends to be less crowded in the evenings, and I am accustomed to going at that time. I also like to see the night sky after I swim. But I digress. Below is a distant picture of the footbridge I had heard about that crosses the Des Plaines.

Instead of the lawn at Indian Gardens, on this side there is a paved path that follows the river from the other side of the bridge near where I park in Lyons. It goes all the way into the Village of Riverside where the library, town hall and police and fire station are all located. The bridge is just past the police and fire station. I encountered my first guide on this walk. She told me she grew up in the area and had moved away but was back to help with her parents. She said the paved path was new, had been installed perhaps only for a year. Among all her other comments, I remember her saying there was a Bald Eagle family on the river last year. I certainly hope to see some Bald Eagles here this winter.

Across from the river side of the path is a large floodplain area that sits well below street level where there are houses. There are steps leading down into it, which the first woman told me was left over from a historical toboggan slide, There’s a similar sort of structure at Swallow Cliffs in the Palos region. Tobogganing must have been popular in Cook County.

The Riverside Water Tower bears further investigation.

There were two Great Blue Herons on the river.

Some more views of the river, leaves and trees…

Struggling to get a picture of at least one Dark-eyed Junco, I took the one below. I hear them more often than I see them lately.

Here’s a House Sparrow near the paved path who caught my attention.

This were Red-bellied Woodpeckers both days. Below is the one on the 10th.

American Goldfinches are still making the best of seed remnants. They are blending in well.

The foot bridge across the river.

On the other side of the footbridge is a paved road that leads to more development, most of which has since been removed. I met a woman who was driving to her physical therapy appointment – she had stopped for me to finish taking the photograph below. She pointed out several overgrown lots where houses had been. The unincorporated area floods, being too low and so close to the river. If I remember what she said correctly, the government bought out the homeowners to return the area to its natural state as a flood plain. She said wildlife had come back in full force and she was thrilled to tell me she had heard two owls calling to each other the night before.

Whie-breasted Nuthatch with … a nut

On my second visit to this area after I crossed the bridge on the 16th and started on the trail along the river, I found a Brown Creeper and a White-breasted Nuthatch.

Brown Creeper
White-breasted Nuthatch

I think this was the last time I saw a Creeper.

From the bridge, views of Canada Geese on the river.

There were some Mallards on the river as well, but generally far away. I managed to capture these few that were closer to shore. I hope to see some other ducks soon.

After the flocks of American Robins a couple weeks ago, now it’s hard to find even one Robin. Sometimes I only hear one or two.

On the other hand, Northern Cardinals are more visible.

The unpaved path leading back to Joliet Avenue on the other side of the river.

This busy Red-bellied Woodpecker was in the same area of the reclaimed wild space as the Brown Creeper and White-bellied Nuthatch above.

Some more views of the returned-to-wild areas on either side of the river. I will get better at identifying them as I visit more often.

It’s been so dry, it’s hard to imagine what this area will look like when it floods, but I am sure I will find out eventually.

My start and finish point, the Hofmann Tower in Lyons.

Thanks for hanging in here with me. It’s been challenging to put this mess together in any sort of logical progression. But I did want to make a strong case for this place because I will be visiting it often. I have found my second birding home.

Rusties!

Rusty Blackbird

When flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles occur, we’re always looking for Rusty Blackbirds in the mix and until last Sunday I had not seen any. When, just by luck, I happened to be standing on the trail just as a flock of blackbirds flew into the tree in front of me, and lo and behold, mixed in with the Red-wingeds were Rusty Blackbirds!

Below, there’s one Rusty and one Red-winged, for comparison.

These two look like the official greeters.

I was treated to another busy White-breasted Nuthatch.

After an entire summer looking for Red-bellied Woodpeckers and never seeing them, now they are becoming easier to spot. You can even see the “red” on the lower abdomen in the bottom photograph.

I’m really drawn to the gold-colored leaves.

The duckweed turned gray with the cloudy sky, making a strange background for the Mallard below.

A female House Finch and a barely visible Downy Woodpecker.

Below is a flock of American Goldfinches and then one individual well-camouflaged by the vegetation.

This might be the first time I’ve noticed what looks like a cattail gone to seed.

One more of the welcoming committee.

We are getting a little snow, followed by a brief warmup, and then more cold and gloomy weather. I plan to go out as much as possible, just because it’s good to stretch my legs, and then I never know what I will see. Either way there are lots of warbler photographs coming from a few months ago. I should have time now to go through them and celebrate a good haul.

Early November at the Portage

I am sure I have heard a Tufted Titmouse at the Portage on occasion, but I have never seen one until, just as I was about to finish my walk on November 2nd, this one appeared. I had been hanging out with a Black-capped Chickadee and the titmouse insisted on having its picture taken instead.

Black-capped Chickadee

More photos of the Tufted Titmouse are below. In all there are way too any photographs in this post. I am trying to empty them off my hard drive so I can keep up with the present. And there are still pictures of the fall warblers from two months ago. Well. You get the picture.

Birds are moving in flocks now, which generally means you can go for a long time without seeing anything move and then encounter several individuals at once. Below is a flock of Cedar Waxwings.

The 1st was a bit sunnier than the second. Northern Cardinals are easier to see now than they were all summer. Even the females allow themselves to be photographed…as long as they are somewhat hidden and backlit.

Although there are lots of White-throated Sparrows, I don’t often see one well enough to get a picture. This one was a challenge.

Another White-throated Sparrow

One sparrow that has been showing up a lot since I took these first photos below is the Fox Sparrow. They are considerably larger than other sparrows and tend to just sit, so even though this one was behind branches, I could still capture it.

Black-capped Chickadee… and an American Goldfinch

House Finches blend right in to the browns and grays of fall.

Below is a Red-tailed Hawk.

I’ve been delighted to see White-breasted Nuthatches after hearing but rarely seeing them all summer.

Nearly every day I have seen a Brown Creeper.

Here’s about how far away the Brown Creeper was.

American Robins are in flocks too, but every once in a while I spot an individual.

Apologies for Downy Woodpecker overload – it is the start of Visible Woodpecker Season… I love to observe their behavior.