Getting Greener

The rollercoaster ride continues. Has it been anything else this past year? I seem to be plagued with anxiety over work, technological failures, commitments made, unfinished chores…and then the sun comes out, floods the house with brightness, emergencies subsist or in some cases solve themselves and fade into short-term memory, and life is good again. My iPhone was losing charge drastically this morning…which seemed life-threatening, but now I have so far anyway managed to find a better phone charging cord and it is coming back to battery life.

So since I find myself at relative peace, it being Friday and the middle of the day when the world seems to be focusing on the weekend, here are last Sunday’s photos, few and far between, from a cloudy, cool Portage morning. The White-Throated Sparrow at the top of the post didn’t appear to happy with the weather.

This time I was fortunate enough to see two Eastern Phoebes by the second bridge. I suppose I can assume they are a nesting pair returning. They were sort of tucked away and a bit hard to see.

I have heard a Song Sparrow for weeks but this is the first time I caught a glimpse of one.

Only one Black-capped Chickadee offered itself up on this cloudy day.

I saw this pair of Wood Ducks fly into the trees and then could just barely capture them through the branches.

The woodpeckers were hard to see but I found this one early on.

Cloudy Portage scenes…with emerging green…

On my way out, just when I was wondering if I would see anything new at all, I came across half a dozen Yellow-Rumped Warblers on the paved path, in exactly the same spot as last May, I believe, that a similar number of male Indigo Buntings announced their arrival.

I think this is the first time I have seen the new redbuds blooming. They’re in a nice welcoming spot behind the sculpture, breaking up the lawn that sprawls in front of the woods.

To be sure, the Robins are busy and they will continue to be so.

I hope to be back soon – I know, i always say that, and then weeks go by… but Spring Is Upon Us and it seems I must rise to the occasion. I am grateful for the Seasons – they are still with us!

Looking Back to Spring Forward

I started writing this post to coincide with setting the clocks forward, and now it’s taken me over another week to get back to it. But when considering all the photographs were taken a year and a month ago – on April 19th, 2020, to be exact – and I never got a chance to finish processing them until now, it’s taken even longer! I hope it’s kind of a sneak preview of what to expect in the coming days and weeks as spring unfolds at the Portage.

One of my first encounters was a pair of Downy Woodpeckers exhibiting their exuberant version of courtship behavior. At first I thought they were arguing! I have never witnessed this before so I’m glad I was able to capture it. If you click on the right panel and keep going you can see the sequence.

It appears I had way too many photographs from this excursion which might explain why I never managed to post them. Still it’s nice to revisit them, like the female Northern Cardinal below.

Below, often the first warbler to visit, a Myrtle Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Surprised to find this photograph in the mix – likely my first sighting of an Eastern Bluebird last year.

An Eastern Phoebe, dreaming of flying insects, perhaps.

Another Downy Woodpecker.

Song Sparrows…

Red-winged Blackbirds…

I don’t think there’s enough water on site anymore to attract herons, but there is plenty nearby so I should still see them flying over on occasion.

A Northern Flicker showing just a little of its golden shafts.

There were two Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers on this tree and one flew away.

A Black-capped Chickadee showing off.

A singular turtle…

An assortment of early fungus, moss and flora.

A singing American Robin

Here’s a Golden-Crowned Kinglet – unfortunately the lighting didn’t do its colors justice.

This Brown-headed Cowbird was foraging on the ground.

Canada Geese and the clouds…

Robins often seem like they want to engage in a conversation.

A Wood Duck drake in a tree. I remember trying to get this shot after I saw him land, with a lot of branches between us.

Mallards…

Blue-winged Teal…

So the Portage will still be slowly coming to life, but we’re warming up, the days are getting longer and migration has begun. Springing forward with hope.

Little Brown Jobs

I started writing this post so long ago I almost forgot what it was. But these pictures are from last month, when I visited McGinnis Slough. I never know what to expect as the species change with the water level. The water level was low, so there were primarily land birds to look for. And most of them were sparrows, often referred to fondly as “LBJs” or “little brown jobs” in birder jargon.

At the top of the post is a Swamp Sparrow and there are more photographs below. Swamp Sparrows are distinctly reddish-brown on their wings.

Next, a couple lovely Song Sparrows. Always streaky, but they can often look quite different. The strong, bold malar is their giveaway.

I will never forget how frustrated I felt when I first discovered birds and found out that House Sparrows are not a native species but indeed, there were some thirty-odd native species to worry about. With luck I will see a third of them here. It took years of classes and practice to get them straight. Actually when I first got interested in birds, House Sparrows were still considered weaver finches by some. They are now included in the sparrow family. I’ve never seen a House Sparrow at McGinnis, so they are not featured in this post. But considering they were among the first birds to interact with me, I probably owe them a tribute someday in a future post. Until then, I believe they are all in my backyard…

One of my favorite sparrows is below, the Fox Sparrow. There are four subspecies. The one we see is the “Red”.

Fox Sparrow

The handsome sparrow below is a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow. I have not seen an adult this fall.

Dark-eyed Juncos are part of the sparrow family too. I am always intrigued by the nuances of color in these birds, I don’t find them drab at all. After a while one starts to recognize them by their flash of white tail feathers in flight or their ratchety calls.

To jazz things up a bit, there were a couple of Northern Cardinals handy. I never turn down an opportunity to capture them.

There were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers too. It was the last time I saw them this year.

It was still warm enough for Dandelions to consider blooming. Seeds are scattering from milkweed pods. I was attracted to the red-leafed plant but I don’t know what it is.

Last, here are a few scenes from the slough. All the way at the bottom is the overturned picnic table that used to sit right by the overlook onto the slough at the south end. It was a nice place to sit. I am not letting my imagination run too wild with what caused anyone to throw it into the creek upside-down.

I will try to be back sooner. Work has been busy and all-consuming. But now it seems silly and superfluous to complain about anything. I have started swimming again. Swimming Fixes Everything. I was surprised that I had forgotten how absolutely, sinfully wonderful it feels to get out of the pool with all my cells “woke”. I feel almost guilty admitting it in the midst of such a miserable, suffering year. If I could bottle and sell the feeling I have after swimming, I would be a trillionaire, but of course I can’t because the best things in life, truly, are free.

I hope you have a go-to place that refreshes your spirit and gives you energy to continue. We’re not done yet.

Marching Mirrorless

Sunday morning I ventured out with the mirrorless camera, after not using it for a year. I determined the length of time when I found photographs I had taken on October 24, 2019 still on the memory card, and some of them are further down this post. I had been using the camera for my occasional walks around the part of the southwest Loop where the office is located.

When I went out Sunday, I didn’t have any great expectations for pictures of birds, but I did manage a few. The last post featured goldfinches foraging in the duck weed and this one has Yellow-Rumped Warblers.

Below is the only Palm Warbler I managed to capture in some focus. I may get more practice with this camera this weekend. It’s small enough for me to hold steady with my left hand.

I love fall colors.

The geese flew over this time. They didn’t land.

This is what the path looks like when I first enter the Portage.

Below are some pictures I took last October. Hermit Thrushes and White-Throated Sparrows in a city park-like setting. I miss seeing the park crowd.

Even the House Sparrows looked good that day.

Common Yellowthroat female
White-throated Sparrow

Some things are still best depicted with a cell phone camera. Below is the loaf of bread I made Sunday night. It was finally cool enough to turn on the oven, and I had enough mobility in my left hand to manage the loaf and then even hold it still so I could slice it (that was the hardest part).

I just had my sinks routed out today after years and years of accumulated waste, likely from cleaning the cages in the basement and then more recently, hulling the sprouts I grow. I have learned my lesson, ordered some drain filters, and I can be more careful as I start to feel more capable doing my chores.

We are presently having a lovely spell of warmer weather – I suppose it’s what may still be called “Indian Summer” – before the fall and winter settle in. I have not been able to determine whether the term has met its socially approved expiration date, so I use it with caution and due respect here.

Today on the radio, I’m hearing things I used to play and find myself longing to touch the piano keys again. I’m not quite ready, my fingers are still a wee bit swollen and stiff. But there’s an element of renewal in recovery and I am embracing it for all its worth. I hope you are finding something good in your day to hang your hat on. Onward.

Saturday’s Spring Bird Count and Mother’s Day Rain

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to participate in the Spring Bird Count in DuPage County. I have done this count for a number of years, but this time, with social distancing, it was different. We split up so we each covered one area. I was assigned the Silver Lake part of Blackwell Forest Preserve, a location I was not familiar with, but was easy to navigate with the map Jody gave me, and I can get lost anywhere. Since I could only do the morning and there was no time limit, I had a wonderful experience listening for and spotting all the birds I could identify at a leisurely pace.

One of several Yellow-Rumped Warblers

I felt especially privileged because under the current New Normal, I would not have been allowed to visit DuPage County preserves because I am not a resident. The county decided last month to limit parking to its residents. We speculated there was an overflow of people from Cook County, where I live, due to the closing of the lakefront. So I don’t know when I’ll be able to revisit this lovely place, but now that I am more familiar with it, I plan to do so when restrictions end.

Eastern Bluebird (male)

I was beginning to feel like I am the only person on earth who hadn’t seen a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak yet so I was happy to find one singing high up in a tall tree.

Love was definitely in the air, albeit chilly after freezing temperatures overnight, for local breeders. I usually can’t get a glimpse of a Blue Jay long enough to photograph, but this pair united for some courtship behavior, exchanging some tiny seeds you might be able to see if you click on the images below.

And when it was all over I somehow managed to catch this Blue Jay in flight.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers are usually quite common, however brief the period of spring migration, so it’s easy to overlook how truly beautiful they are. This one was happy to display all his yellow parts except for his namesake.

I have no idea what was going on with this European Starling but I could swear he was dancing and singing.

This Tree Swallow was saving his energy for later when the sun would start warming up the ground and the air and there would be bugs to catch.