If you’ve looked outside today, you might guess from the gloomy skies that this morning got off to a slow start, and you’d be right. On the flip side, the winds were calm, the temperatures were mild, and no precipitation was falling, yet.
As I walked north along the river, several downy woodpeckers put on nice shows, but it was really still too dark, so I waited until I almost reached the falls, and this guy made it worth the wait. I almost never see them not actively foraging or flying to the next tree to continue.
There were also chickadees in the vicinity, and this one was kind enough to hold still for just long enough.
The riverbank mud is melting from the top down after the cold snap, so it was still firm enough to walk on, but the litter I’ve been wanting to collect for weeks was not frozen solid into it, and I had a bag full by the time I reached the falls. So, I climbed the stairs to the trash can at the beer garden, and this was my reward: a junco that was a lot hungrier than it was worried about me.
I took 38 pictures as I inched closer and closer until finally a squirrel with a walnut to stash inadvertently shooed it away.
As I continued north of the falls, I was surprised to find not a duck on the water. Perhaps an eagle had come through earlier, and they just haven’t returned yet. In the meantime, oak tree leaves were still drifting down onto the sliver of river ice along the riverbank, and here’s one of them.
As I approached the wide part of the river, between the two islands, I thought I heard a mallard quacking, but I couldn’t find it, and it turned out to be this blue heron, instead. They are very frugal with their flying, in my experience, and only take to the air to go fishing or when someone gets too close, but this one circled overhead for a while, croaking its distinctive, prehistoric call as it went.
I hoped it would settle down on a tree limb for a bit, so I could get a better picture, but it never did. Maybe it’s looking for another heron, and I hope they find each other.
On my way back south, the river was still empty, but I heard another familiar call, this time from a female belted kingfisher. As you know, they are crazy shy, and by some perfect luck, the downed tree between us provided enough of a screen to let her feel comfortable but left just one gap big enough for me to shoot through. I think this might be my best kingfisher picture yet.
Eventually someone came walking up the path, and our hero took off for the far shore, so I took a moment to collect a little more river trash, when suddenly there was a bunch of whistling sounds out over the water. I looked up just in time to catch the spectacle of this whole raft of mallards coming in for a landing.
They must have figured that the coast was finally clear, or maybe they were fleeing an eagle upriver, and if the eagle’s there, it won’t be here. Either way, welcome back, kids!
By now, you may have noticed that the morning was shaping up pretty nicely, especially after such a slow start, but wait, the best is still to come!
As I was walking south along the boardwalk below the beer garden, I spotted some little birds flitting between the trees along the river and the brush on the side of the bluff, as I often do there. These birds, however, didn’t behave as the usual juncos, goldfinches, or chickadees do. I got out my binoculars for a quick closer look, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Who could that be with the little white eye ring? Then it turned around for me, and its ID was unmistakable now, but I still couldn’t believe my eyes.
After being AWOL for the entire year, I finally found my bluebird of happiness, in the middle of December, and there were three of them!
We’re just about in the middle of their breeding range, and their year-round range clips the southern tips of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, so they don’t have too far to go, but I’m so glad they pulled off for a quick refueling stop in Estabrook before they continue their journey.
What an unexpected treat on such a dark day in December, eh?