Shorebird Weekend

American White Pelicans in Flight, Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge

American White Pelicans in flight, Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge

I got home late last night from a weekend trip to Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge with my friend Lesa. It was a somewhat last-minute, spur-of-the-moment, why-not trip which means we did not plan ahead too well, but the spirit of adventure overtook us and we went to see what is perhaps the premier shorebird viewing spot in the state of Illinois during fall shorebird migration. We drove down Saturday night, stayed at a motel another 45 minutes away, and got up early Sunday morning to thick fog and cloud cover. Not exactly ideal conditions for viewing anything, let alone shorebirds which are always distant unless you are on a beach. I have been nodding off for a couple hours going through fuzzy far away pictures I took anyway to see if there were perhaps any species we missed or if anything came out clear enough to reproduce here, but the consensus is generally negative. Below is perhaps the best shorebird picture, such as it is.

Lesser Yellowlegs with Blue-Winged Teal

Lesser Yellowlegs with Blue-Winged Teal

The light was so poor in the morning, even birds a tad bit closer were hard to photograph. We stopped first at Goofy Ridge but the water levels were too high, so we spent most of our time further south at Eagle Bluff which features a cross-dike you can walk out on to view the birds. There were perhaps eight more birders off and on. A bit closer to the dike were some dead trees, where we encountered a noisy family of Red-Headed Woodpeckers.

RHWP, Chautauqua 8-31-14-4422

Adult Male Red-Headed Woodpecker

Juv RHWP, Chautauqua 8-31-14-4438

Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker

RHWP, Chautauqua 8-31-14-4414 Juv RHWP, Chautauqua 8-31-14-4431

As the fog began to wane I managed a few pictures of birds in flight, albeit none too sharp.

Canada Geese, Chautauqua

Canada Geese, Chautauqua

More and more American White Pelicans took to the air. They are regular visitors to the Illinois River in migration and make flying look like a lot of fun. In bright sunlight when they turn away from the sun, they became almost invisible as the black tips to their wings only show underneath. They looked like stars on a light blue sky.

Pelicans

Pelicans

The sun finally came out at midday and it became too hot to stand around behind our scopes out on the open dike, so we decided to leave. We were almost at the car when we encountered a couple of venerated birders we know. They had just identified a Ruff. But we were hot, a bit tired and hungry, so we decided to let it go rather than stay and have them point the bird out to us. One reason for this trip was to figure out the birds ourselves, because we decided that we would otherwise never learn to distinguish them. So we took off for a fairly leisurely drive around the area, crossing the river and back again, stopping and getting out here and there, looking for camping and/or birding spots for future trips. The idea of making this trip every year to sharpen our shorebird identification skills was in our minds. One early stop was at the Chautauqua Nature Trail which starts off the back of the headquarters building and winds through black oak sand forest, where I took the snail and butterfly images below.

Snail

Snail

Tiger Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

We also made a stop at Emiquon, more restored habitat along the Illinois River basin. There wasn’t much to see this time of year, but one shaded area afforded space for perhaps a dozen or more Barn Swallow nests.

Empty Barn Swallow Nest

Empty Barn Swallow Nest

We went back to Eagle Bluff at Chautauqua late in the afternoon, after the heat had begun to dissipate and the light was still good, to find the Ruff mentioned earlier. I had seen Ruffs in East Africa last November, where they commonly spend the winter, but they are a rarity around here. As we approached the dike for viewing, I improvised a dream conversation for our encounter: “Hi. I’m Joe Ruff. Didn’t I see you in Tanzania last winter?”

There were a lot fewer shorebirds than were present earlier in the day, which likely helped the Ruff stand out that much more. We are confident that we did see it, after studying our field guides while eating a leisurely, late lunch. Unfortunately it was not possible to photograph more than a pinkish blob on legs. But it was worth sharing a high-five to find it, identify it and study it. Thus fortified, we pronounced our impromptu shorebird expedition a success. This will inspire us to plan better next year and maybe spend a few days, as the weather is never reliable. Plus every day different birds come in, so chances are if we visited the refuge for two or three days we would see many more species.

In addition to the Ruff we had nice looks at a Marbled Godwit, Western Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semi-Palmated Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, American Avocet, a Least Sandpiper, Short-Billed Dowitcher and many, many Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Semi-Palmated Plover. We had one Greater Yellowlegs when we returned to see the Ruff. I think I probably saw a Hudsonian Godwit too but may not have realized it at the time. Then there were many Blue-Winged Teal and Black Terns. I’m sure I’m forgetting something; we decided to leave the listing and counting to those more experienced. But I am not forgetting that the most common shorebirds we normally see, Solitary and Spotted, were not present. And I can remember seeing only a couple Least Sandpipers, which is a bit unusual. As luck would have it, the last reports from today counted 26 species, so that’s a definite incentive to extend the next trip another day at least.

I am still figuring out the insect pictures from last weekend’s outing to Kane County where the idea for this trip was hatched. With the swimming pool being closed this week for maintenance, there’s a possibility I’ll manage another post featuring my six-legged friends. In the meantime here is the most cooperative subject on the way out from our second stop at Eagle Ridge. One of those unidentified but interesting grasshoppers.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

I got over to the Chicago Portage this morning before the predicted rain, which turned out to be nothing substantial, to see if there were any more hummingbirds present. I encountered only two, a female from the flash of white tail feathers, and later what was probably a beautiful male on my way out, but both left too quickly to study, there were hardly any other birds, and I got tired of being the primary food source for the local mosquitos. I’ll likely try again next weekend. I cleaned and refilled my hummer feeders at home, but no action there either. I keep trying to tell myself I will have great looks at Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in November in Costa Rica and I should just wait.  But it will take something like an influx of warblers to make me get over this.

 

August at the Chicago Portage: Finale

Green Heron

Green Heron

I did not make it to the Chicago Portage this past weekend to check on the possibility of hummingbirds again. But maybe it’s still worth commenting on the remaining creatures I encountered on the 17th.

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird

Juv RWBB Portage-8-17-2014-3822

It’s that confusing time of year again. Young birds are as big as their parents, but distinguishing them is sometimes difficult, especially in poor light. Often I take a picture I know will be lousy just to blow it up later, adjust the exposure and see if I can figure out what it was I was looking at. As it is, the “sparrowy” looking birds all turned out to be Song Sparrows (except for the Red-Winged Blackbirds). There were several Indigo Buntings too but due to poor light and whatever else they hid themselves within, they did not make the cut.

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Now that you’ve seen both the juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird and the Song Sparrow, see if you can figure out what the bird is below. You could almost make a case for either one, I think.

What's this?

What’s this?

Then there are the group photos. The birds don’t always cooperate but sometimes the challenge of how many you can fit in the frame takes over.

European Starling Tree

European Starling Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree – too far away, really, but good enough for numbers.

Mourning Dove Tree

Mourning Dove Tree

There was a group congregating in the water too. A family of Wood Ducks getting ready to depart.

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks

Shorebird migration is in full force, but the Portage isn’t a hot spot. Still I had the two most likely suspects in attendance.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Killdeer

Killdeer

I love the look of juvenile European Starlings. Until they turn mostly black, it’s possible to see they do have eyes.

Juvenile European Starling

Juvenile European Starling

Another black bird, but instead of a shiny navy blue head, this juvenile Common Grackle is a rich dark chocolate brown.

Juvenile Common Grackle

Juvenile Common Grackle

The Cedar Waxwing below strikes me as an adult, but chances are some of those in the Waxwing Tree above, if only we could see them, were youngsters.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Down by the second bridge was a very friendly Eastern Phoebe enjoying flying off his perch for insects,

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Now comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The bugs that I cannot identify. This beetle looked to me like it would be easy to find in my Big Beetle Book (not the title) but so far I have been unable to identify it. While I don’t think I’ve discovered a new species, I am beginning to understand this confusion is often the way it is with insects. Period.

Unidentified Beetle

Unidentified Beetle

The ladybug could be the most common native species, but I’m not going out on any limb.

I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don't know

I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don’t know

More birds–and bugs — pardon me, insects — to come.

August at the Chicago Portage, Act II, Scene I: Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk Musings

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk, Chicago Portage

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk, Chicago Portage

I could spend a couple hours trying to figure out the identity of two beetles, but for the moment I am going to share a few photos of the juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk that was hanging out at the Portage last weekend. With any luck, I will stop by tomorrow morning to check on him or her and continue to look for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in the Jewel Weed.

White-Tailed Deer, Chicago Portage

White-Tailed Deer, Chicago Portage

Actually I did get a brief view of one Ruby-Throated Hummingbird on Sunday morning, not long after I startled some deer. As I approached the first bridge over the muck, the Ruby-Throat exploded into the air along with a House Wren who proudly posed with his prize, and it is likely the hummer was trying for the same thing. But the hummer kept going and was not available for the photographic record.

House Wren, Chicago Portage

House Wren, Chicago Portage

HOWR Portage-8-17-2014-3145After that I encountered the juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk and spent a long time with it watching it watching me and looking for possible prey. It was not successful in the prey department, at least while I was observing it. But it occurred to me later that my days of watching this hawk will soon be over if they aren’t already. When he or she gets better at hunting I won’t be encountering this bird so often on my level. So let’s enjoy the field marks while we can!

My first encounter with the hawk on this perch

My first encounter with the hawk on this perch

Juv RTHA Portage-8-17-2014-3238

Spotting something in the grass….

Juv RTHA Portage-8-17-2014-3279

Coming up empty…

Juv RTHA Portage-8-17-2014-3282Juv RTHA Portage-8-17-2014-3295Juv RTHA Portage-8-17-2014-3236

The light was awful on Sunday so I didn’t get much in the way of pictures unless I was right on top of something. A second segment will follow, with more birds and those dang beetles whether I can identify them or not. Maybe I should give up on the insects and stick to birds (I already have scores if not a hundred or more bird books for identification) before I spend any more money on insect books for identification. But for now I am still trying to make good on my investment. For those more curious about butterflies and dragonflies I have tried to identify in previous posts, I made revisions to the IDs thanks to my ever watchful friend Linda P. Thank you, Linda!

Juv RTHA Portage-8-17-2014-3223

Not a songbird but worthy of a song. Hmmm. That gives me an idea… :-)

August at the Chicago Portage, Scene 2: Lepidoptera et al.

Comma

Comma

Saturday’s outing at the Portage continued, with birds here and there, but this post will concentrate on the butterflies who stole the show as the sun climbed more directly overhead.

The main draw was the Burdock blooms, which sometimes made walking on the narrow path narrower and a bit precarious. After all, Burdock was the inspiration plant for Velcro.

Second Year Burdock, Chicago Portage

Second Year Burdock, Chicago Portage

As it turned out I encountered two distinguished gentlemen on the path who, after asking me what I was interested in, announced they were into plants. They were happy to tell me the Burdock blooms were the second stage of the biennial plant, those monstrous huge leaves being the first year. I returned the favor by identifying the juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk from my previous post and the trouble it was causing the juvenile Green Heron. They went on to identify a few other plants for me, one of which I used on my picture of the now-named Heal-All in a previous post.

Burdock has an entire culture built around it, including medicinal and culinary uses, which don’t tempt me. But to see the butterflies and other insects enjoying the flowers gave me a new appreciation for what I previously wrote off as a pesky invasive.

Question Mark

Question Mark

Question Mark

Question Mark

The butterflies were all on the north side of the creek that runs through the Portage. I usually walk all the way around the south side first by crossing the east bridge, and then cross the west bridge over the creek and turn back toward the way I came only on the other side of the creek, which is where the burdock grew thicker and more and more butterflies appeared.

Upside-down Comma - is this now an Apostrophe?

Upside-down Comma – is this now an Apostrophe?

Comma

Comma

It was nice to have the swallowtails and the purple for comparison.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail – 8/23 update – Linda P things this is probably a female Tiger Swallowtail

Red-Spotted Purple

Red-Spotted Purple – at least I got this one right this time

Tiger Swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtail

I am not convinced of my identification for the butterfly below but have not yet found anything else it resembles.

Golden Banded Skipper, I think

Most likely Silver-Spotted Skipper, according to Linda P

There were several dragonflies, unfortunately the most cooperative sitting on the gravel which makes a lousy picture. The White-Faced Meadowhawks are abundant this year.

White-Faced Meadowhawk

White-Faced Meadowhawk

Blue-Fronted Dancer

Blue-Fronted Dancer? Too hard to tell.

Not sure who this is

Not sure who this is, could be a female White-Faced Meadowhawk – Linda says they are hard to distinguish

Perhaps most fortuitous was the Red Admiral pictured below. First it landed on my pants, then on my sleeve, and I guess it knew I wanted a picture because it moved to the camera. I was loaded down with  both cameras hanging on my shoulders and my binoculars, so the only option left was the cell phone. That’s how I got the three pictures below. The Red Admiral wasn’t going anywhere and I stood still as it kept investigating my skin with its little proboscis, until I finally started moving again and it flew away.

Red Admiral on CameraRed Admiral on FingerRed Admiral on Hand

The bees were busy too.

Bee on Burdock

Bee on Burdock

I will be back to birds for a recap of Sunday’s return visit to the Chicago Portage.

August at the Chicago Portage

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk

I broke with tradition and went out Saturday morning, albeit rather late, having slept in, which was more traditional. After feeding the birds inside and out, I considered the weather forecast: while half hoping it would rain all weekend and I would be forced to take care of indoor projects that beg for attention, if Saturday morning was to be the only decent weather, I should at least visit the Portage to see if the Jewel Weed was in bloom, thereby attracting Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds.

Jewel Weed and Poke Weed, Chicago Portage

Jewel Weed and Poke Weed, Chicago Portage

Jewel Weed blossom

Jewel Weed blossom

Well, the Jewel Weed was blooming everywhere, but there were no hummingbirds in attendance. I did, however, encounter a juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk and a juvenile Green Heron, and was able to observe the hawk antagonizing the heron without success. It reminded me slightly of the juvenile Cooper’s Hawks going after crows in Grant Park. Chances are my presence inhibited the interactions between both birds, but I consider it a draw because the hawk’s presence was damping down any activity by other birds.

Juvenile Green Heron

Juvenile Green Heron

Juv GRHE-Portage 8-16-2014-2744Juv GRHE-Portage 8-16-2014-2753Juv RTHA-Portage 8-16-2014-2756

I will be back with more reports from my Portage weekend. I went back to the Portage again this morning, a couple hours earlier than yesterday’s visit. There was much more going on both days than what is represented here but this is all I have time for now.

Juv RTHA-Portage 8-16-2014-2861

Late Summer Walks

Deer Fly, McGinnis Slough

Deer Fly, McGinnis Slough

Even if there is not much in the way of birds to see or photograph – a distant Baltimore Oriole, a flock of blackbirds flying by – I am still committed to going somewhere every Sunday morning, weather permitting. It has become part of my routine. Routine is great to fall back on when I feel unfocused, overwhelmed or just plain lazy.

So last Sunday I decided to visit Lake Katherine again, and then hop over to McGinnis Slough, which wasn’t far. The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, which in reality never happened. The first bird near the parking lot was this skeptical-looking female Northern Cardinal.

Female Northern Cardinal, Lake Katherine

Female Northern Cardinal, Lake Katherine

I decided to skip the garden portion and walk around the lake. The first bird to record was likely the same Black-Crowned Night Heron I saw a couple weeks ago in the trees. Although his attempt to hide behind the grasses seemed successful to me, he wasn’t pleased with it and he took off before I could snap a picture of him in flight. When I am the cause of a bird’s flight, I don’t like to photograph it anyway, I feel too much like I’m taking advantage of the situation I created. Not to mention that usually the bird is gone long before I can get myself organized enough to capture it.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

It was a cloudy day which made it difficult to photograph anything in flight, actually. But these three helicopters sure were noisy.

Helicopters over Lake Katherine

Helicopters over Lake Katherine

Back on the ground, taking note of dragonflies, a Sphinx (“Hummingbird”) Moth and the geometry of a completely stripped thistle blossom.

Widow Skimmer, Lake Katherine

Widow Skimmer, Lake Katherine

White-Faxed Meadowhawk

White-Faced Meadowhawk

Thistle, Lake Katherine

Thistle, Lake Katherine

Sphinx Moth on Monarda, Lake Katherine

Sphinx Moth on Monarda, Lake Katherine

Juvenile Mallards as big as their parents and at this time of year, looking much the same.

Juvenile Mallard

Juvenile Mallard

Mallards by the Canoe Launch, Lake Katherine

Mallards by the Canoe Launch, Lake Katherine

There was a Great Blue Heron stalking prey, but after taking maybe 15 pictures of him crouched low, I grew tired and never did see him catch anything.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

The heron was a bit closer when I got around to the other side of the lake.

Great Blue Heron

In the middle of the lake is a small island, and in addition to two small rookery platforms which I did not photograph, there are heron sculptures which looked a lot more interesting.

Heron Sculptures

Heron Sculptures

But my attention to the island was first drawn by a bright orange bird on the other side of it. It’s a Baltimore Oriole that hasn’t left yet. Unfortunately it was too far away to photograph, but I like the branches hanging over the pond lilies anyway.

BAOR Lake Katharine 8-10-14-2447

Lots of Chimney Swifts, which are impossible to follow, but they were so close, I had to try. At least I got one flying cigar photo.

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift

CHSW Lake Katharine 8-10-14-2515

I believe the flower below is a form of evening primrose, of which I understand there are an unbelievable number of varieties. Anyway it looks similar to what has taken over part of my yard.

Evening Primrose, Lake Katharine

Evening Primrose, Lake Katherine

By the time I got to McGinnis Slough, it was 10:30 AM or so, which is getting late by bird standards. There was not an awful lot happening. Maybe the best bird was a very close Green Heron, but with the clouds and backlighting, it doesn’t appear colorful at all.

Green Heron, McGinnis Slough

Green Heron, McGinnis Slough

GRHE McGinnis 8-10-14-2529

It’s impossible to look out on whatever water there is at McGinnis without a scope, so I did the obligatory scan and counted some Pied-Billed Grebes, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants, and I forget what else – I still have to input my ebird list – there wasn’t much. But there was a Deer Fly who was fascinated by the scope cover. Better the scope cover than me. I am usually swatting at these things, but this one was a model insect. My what beautiful eyes you have.

Deer Fly on the scope

Deer Fly on the scope

Deer Fly McGinnis 8-10-14-3944

On the way back to the car, a few Barn Swallows taking a preening break.

Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough

Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough

The American Goldfinch below is likely a juvenile male, if the faint darkness on his crown is any indication.

American Goldfinch, Lake Katharine

American Goldfinch, Lake Katherine

Summer continues, although for the moment we’re having brisk fall weather. The days are still long but they get shorter and shorter, and every other week it seems I have to make an adjustment to the length of the timers on the lights in the house, so the indoor birds can see where they’re going during people hours.

Unattached

Cooper's Hawk, Grant Park

Cooper’s Hawk, Grant Park

If I were better organized I would only upload pictures I was actually going to use in a blog post, but I am too often compiling posts on the fly and consequently I wind up making last-minute decisions of what to use and never going back to delete the unused, or “unattached” photos.

Black Vulture 4-26-14

Black Vulture 4-26-14

So this is a photo essay with no particular subject, only some previously unattached, unrelated blasts from the past.

Bewick's Wren, 4-26-14

Bewick’s Wren, 4-26-14

Northern Cardinal, Lake Shore East Park, 4-23-14

Northern Cardinal, Lake Shore East Park, 4-23-14

Lincoln's Sparrow, Songbird Meadows, 4-26-14

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Songbird Meadows, 4-26-14

White-Winged Crow, Daley Bicentennial Plaza Tennis Court

White-Winged Crow, Daley Bicentennial Plaza Tennis Court

Superb Starling

Superb Starling

Leopard 11-24-13

Leopard 11-24-13

I’ll be back in real time soon. :-)