Footprints in the Snow

It’s simply too cold to venture outside for a walk today. I had hoped I would be up for a walk anyway – the sun is shining brightly – but with a wind chill of 14 below and a predicted high of no more than 14 above, I think I will simply wait for it to get warmer over the weekend.

I was last at the Chicago Portage on January 4. Even though I was the only human there, it immediately became obvious that several others had preceded me the days before.

I always take a photograph of the statue first just to commemorate the light. And in this case, a little snow on it.

It was a fairly sunny day and not windy, so I could stand and wait for birds to pop up. But there really weren’t many. I struggled to get a halfway clear picture of one very cold-looking White-throated Sparrow.

When I did finally see some Northern Cardinals, they were too far away.

Here are a few snowy scenes. Just enough for a contrast to the shades of brown.

The sky was often undecided about sunshine or clouds.

A view of the Des Plaines River

But there were deer. Several of them.

And more footprints caught my attention.

I barely heard the woodpeckers and did not see them at all. My greeter Black-capped Chickadee was excited to see me but he wouldn’t stay still very long.

I barely captured a Dark-eyed Junco.

Before the snow and cold, Canada Geese were everywhere. On this day, I noted only four flying over.

On the way out, I heard a White-breasted Nuthatch but when I tried to find it, instead I saw a Brown Creeper. Since they don’t sound anything alike, there’s no way I could have mistaken the elusive nuthatch for a creeper or vice versa. But this is a phenomenon I have noticed on several occasions this winter, so they must be foraging in the same trees. Anyway, below are some photos of the creeper.

I have a treasure trove of some slightly older and significantly older photographs to go through and they will come in handy during this cold spell when I just can’t find the courage to brave the elements. The weather hasn’t stopped me from going out at night to swim, it has only made the outing that more surreal. But I am grateful for the opportunity to get some exercise.

Christmas Week at the Portage, Part II

I will be short on narration with this post – the day after Christmas at the Portage was somewhat more of the same as two days before. There were a couple species of birds I did not see on the previous visit. The Fox Sparrow below, for instance, unfortunately did not give me a better view but it had been weeks since I’d seen one so it was nice to see anyway.

And then months perhaps since I saw my last Kinglet – there was a Golden-crowned Kinglet, not captured very well at all, below.

This was the first time I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the bottom of a tree.

Somewhat obscured but not bothered by my attention to it, a White-throated Sparrow.

More Red-bellied Woodpecker shots through the trees…

I haven’t run into large flocks of House Finches lately but there were a few around.

Always nice to see a Brown Creeper.

American Goldfinches seem to be matching the golden-hued Portage lately.

Some common birds trying to escape attention…

European Starlings in a gnarly oak
An American Robin behind bars

This female Northern Cardinal blends right in.

Often moving quickly in flocks, Dark-eyed Juncos aren’t as easy to capture as they ought to be.

It’s still nice to see Northern Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees. I see them more often than not.

I will be back with a little New Year’s Eve visit this morning that was short on birds but good to do anyway seeing as how we are under a winter storm watch that starts early tomorrow morning. Predictions are for a lot of snow, and I have no intention of driving anywhere in it. Maybe I can capture some of the birds in the yard in between snow shoveling shifts.

Best wishes and hopes to all for 2022. I will be celebrating by taking down all my 2021 calendars…

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!

Going Back a Bit

I have been out locally the past two weeks and there is much to post about, but I thought it might be time to take a historical break. These pictures are all from October 19th at the Portage. Only a little over a month ago, there was still more color among the birds than the leaves. I spent a lot of time with this Nashville Warbler.

Perhaps in the instance below the leaves outshone the bird – a pretty drab-looking American Goldfinch.

The other late fall warblers were on hand. Below is a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

And the one I kept seeing later and later into the season, an Orange-crowned Warbler…

Barely visible but I would know that face anywhere (Orange-crowned Warbler)

Not a lot of sparrows on hand but I managed to capture these two.

White-throated Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow

And the Kinglets – Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned…

It’s been wonderful to see Brown Creepers on so many occasions.

Always glad to see a Black-capped Chickadee who seems to return the sentiment.

This could have been the only Great Blue Heron I saw here for months since the drought caused the water level to drop so drastically.

Not a wonderful place for a Hermit Thrush to pose but I was glad to see it.

It wasn’t quite woodpecker “season” yet but I managed to see this female Downy Woodpecker.

There are lots more historical visits to make sense of – indeed a flurry of fall warblers that I was so busy taking pictures of I barely have barely had time to go through them, so they may periodically provide a little visual warmup during the cold.

I am mourning the death of my beloved singer/songwriter/implacable musician Zebra Finch male to whom I gave the name of Arturo Toscanini. He died Thursday morning. I found him on his back, on the floor of the dining room by the windows. He was still warm when I picked him up. He had been singing a lot lately, and I think perhaps he had been telling me his time was coming because I found myself thinking about how old he had to be, even though he had no signs of aging or impairment, other than it seemed his little goatee was getting whiter and whiter. The blessing in all of this is that I have one of his offspring who is singing an abbreviated version of his Arpeggio Song and an even shorter memory of his TaTaTaTaTAH Song. Also, other birds have taken up the actual Toscanini Song that he used to sing a long time ago. And there are many more songs among them to catalogue and follow. At some point I hope to go through the years of recordings (I determined I must have gotten Arturo sometime in late 2014) to see if I can put together a timeline of his compositions. In the meantime, I am incredibly thankful for all the avian musicians I still have with me. Singing is their raison d’etre, and music is life.

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.