Post-pourri

Comma  7-23-15-7983Apologies for the bad pun. It’s been a busy, fragmented, hot week and a half or so. Also, the past weekend was one long party, with no birds in attendance. I am not used to being much of a social butterfly.

Moth Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7580

A moth casts a shadow at Lurie Garden

I haven’t been out much during the day either. If I didn’t know better I might think the crows have given up on me, but I suspect it’s lack of the quiet shady spots we used to have, where we could convene without a steady stream of human beings. Pigeons are much less picky about habitat but definitely not used to having their pictures taken.

Crow  7-27-15-8012

ROPI 7-14-15-7441ROPI 7-24-15-8001On the days I have gone out, I have managed to keep amused. One bright spot, for instance, was finding some Monarch Butterflies in Lurie Garden.

Monarch Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7570

There are other interesting pollinators too. I think the wasp below was more black than blue, but lightening it up made it interesting.

Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7549One afternoon last week standing outside the northern entrance to Lurie, I heard some earnest chirping and determined it was coming out of the small oak tree before me. There were a couple security guards talking to each other totally oblivious to the Robin’s nest I soon located.

AMRO Nest Millennium 7-15-15-7528

American Robin nestlings

I suspect the Northern Cardinal below is a young bird as well because it seemed to know the peanut was for eating but was perplexed by it anyway.

NOCA 7-14-15-7468NOCA 7-14-15-7460On hot, boring days at Lake Shore East Park, as long as I could find a bench to sit on, I took to photographing the fountains.

Fountain LSE 7-07-15-6698Fountain LSE 7-15-15-7502Then a few days ago I was sitting in the shade across from the east side of the Pritzker Pavilion, waiting for crows, and the little bird below darted out of the yews. The shade was so dense it was hard to get a decent picture, but this is the first time I have seen a juvenile Ovenbird at Millennium Park at the end of July. I was so surprised I thought I was going to get a rare bird alert but Ovenbirds breed in this part of the continent so even though I think it was rare for Millennium Park it’s not unlikely. This is the same spot I heard a White-Throated Sparrow singing a couple weeks ago, which is rare, so maybe just going to sit in this spot isn’t such a bad idea. Crows or no crows.

OVEN 7-27-15-8035

Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 7-27-15

OVEN 7-27-15-8022The greatest reward perhaps is still seeing Monarch Butterflies. I have seen fewer than 20 individuals this summer, at least two of them flying around the cement canyons of LaSalle Street. I hope the Swamp Milkweed is making them feel welcome.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7930Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7918

Inertia (aka Summer Doldrums)

Female Tiger Swallowtail Yard 7-19-15-1137Spoiled by earlier dramatic fluctuations in temperature which at times were chilly, I find myself now wiped out by the heat and humidity, albeit expected weather but nonetheless daunting. The only way to avoid overheating is to remain motionless. I did as much of that as possible on Saturday.

However Sunday morning was sunny, so I felt compelled to see how things are going at the Chicago Portage. Construction persists. Access to the trail entrance that heads west is still blocked, but both bridges are open again, which made it easier to take the loop on the other side of the creek back to where I started. On the way out, my eye caught a sign that referred to construction of a “new” shelter being among the improvements. I am unaware of there ever having been an old shelter, so this will be interesting. Maybe I’m reading too much into the word “new.”

Construction Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7581

Going in from the west makes it difficult to photograph anything early in the morning. But I could not resist a cooperative Indigo Bunting.

INBU Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7603

After that for a while it was simply making a record of what I was seeing, even if the picture wasn’t perfect. The distant Great Blue Heron below took off about ten minutes after I took this picture.

GBHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7649

There were two Killdeer skittering about in the duckweedy mud.KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7706

KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7731Also on the other side where I would eventually wind up, a young deer had come down to drink. I have seen deer before but never one so young, alone. I seemed to be catching the last gasp of the early morning activity, which was heartening considering I took my time getting out the door.

Deer Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7678Just about when I started wondering what had happened to all the Baltimore Orioles I saw this young or female bird.

BAOR Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7809

The Red-Winged Blackbird below appeared to have had enough of the heat and humidity.

RWBL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7793Of course just when I think I’ve seen everything I’m going to see or have been unable to get pictures of something ephemeral like the glimpse of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, a surprise occurs. Walking by a large tree at the edge of the water, I saw something huge move in it, determined it couldn’t have been a giant squirrel but had no idea. Then the tree exploded with three large birds scattering in all directions. This turned out to be the Green Heron roosting tree. And one of their offspring flew to a perch in the middle of the water where it sat in surprise for several moments.

GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7853GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7870The other great surprise was to run into a human being. Specifically a young man on his bicycle who asked me if there were many birds at the Portage. It then turned out that he was interested in finding out more about birds. What an absolute delight to have been present for him to quiz me on what direction he could take. I sincerely hope he follows his interest. I restrained myself and did not warn him of the addictive nature to this activity. Probably understood anyway if he at all sensed my passion. This is the magic of the Portage for me. I literally never know what to expect.

I should also know better than to expect anything. I was hoping to see butterflies, so I carried around the second camera and lens in my backpack and never took it out. Virtually no butterflies Sunday morning. There were a few dragonflies, but I was unmoved.

But Sunday afternoon seemed to bring butterflies into my garden. The Red Admirals outnumber all the others but at least there were a few more species.

Red Admiral Yard 7-18-15-1111

Red Admiral

Monarch Yard 7-18-15-1113

Monarch Butterfly in swamp milkweed. I can’t believe I managed this shot with a 100mm closeup lens from quite far away.

The swamp milkweed has taken over two areas of the yard. I keep hoping, as in Plant It And They Will Come.

Swamp Milkweed Yard 7-18-15-1085One more picture from the Portage below: an Eastern Kingbird. The background looks like another planet to me.

EAKI Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7746

Eastern Kingbird Fantastical Portage  7-19-15-7748The weather is improving, and I will slowly pull out of inertia into the sunshine.

Another Goose Lake

YHBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7145

Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Goose Lake Conservation Area, McHenry County, Illinois

Somewhat ironically, shortly after I visited Goose Lake Prairie in Grundy County, the local list-serve was on fire about another Goose Lake Conservation Area in McHenry County, not far from the Wisconsin border, where Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and Black Terns were easy to find. Both species are rare in this area. Reading constant reports about it all last week while at work, I decided if the threat of rain was not severe I would just have to drive to this Goose Lake Natural Area on Sunday morning. I had several days to talk myself into getting up no later than 3:30 AM so I could leave the house by 6:00, seeing as how it would take me over an hour and a half to get there.

I plugged a theoretical address into the GPS on my car and got within striking distance. After that it was easy enough to find and I parked in a tiny parking lot that fits about three small cars. No sooner did I park than I was joined by another Prius driver. Diane had her camera with her too and we birded the trail together.

YHBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7156

There is a Goose Lake on the map but as far as I can tell there is no public access. Thus I saw no lake and no geese. However there was more to explore (we perhaps went in 3/4 of a mile) on a 7-mile trail and some day I will have to make a return trip.

Hebron Trail MapThe Hebron Trail has been made from an abandoned railroad bed, specifically the Kenosha Division Railroad which made its last run in 1939. Just off the parking lot where the wide gravel trail starts is a wooded area that was brimming with hungry mosquitoes. We had been forewarned but it made stopping to look at anything we heard prohibitive. Perhaps after a quarter of a mile we were out of the woods and into the marshy area which was miraculously pretty bug-free. It was cloudy but it did not rain.

Ground Squirrel

Ground Squirrel – I’m not sure I’ve seen these before!

There were at least a dozen Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, and when they became active they made dramatic displays.

YHBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7157

The other species we were excited to see was Black Tern. Although not less visible, they were very difficult to photograph from far away, in the poor light, and they never sat still.

Black Tern

Black Tern

I never thought of Red-Winged Blackbirds as small before but compared to the Yellow-headed Blackbirds they are dainty looking.

RWBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7042Plenty going on with other breeders too. Like the Tree Swallow condominium tree below, and then when a Green Heron decided to sit on one of its branches the Tree Swallows started mobbing it.

TRSW Condo Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7108GRHE Harrassed Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7307GRHE Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7276

Song Sparrows were singing everywhere. Also many Marsh Wrens but I did not get a picture of one suitable to post.

SOSP Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-6888There were so many Common Yellowthroats they could have had a singing competition.

COYT Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-6912One Common Yellowthroat male was feeding its foster child, the Brown-Headed Cowbird juvenile below, but it was too hard to get the actual feeding shot with all the branches in the way.

BHCO and COYT Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-6951My only regret is that the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were not singing, because it would have been a wonderful sound to reproduce for you here. Maybe next year I can get up here when they’re setting up territories.

YHBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7130

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

It’s hard to believe but the Red-Winged Blackbirds were nearly silent as well. Definitely the juveniles below had nothing to say.

RWBL juveniles Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7407

It took me two hours to get back home. There is no easy way to get to this place, but I guess that’s what makes it a favorite for some birds we rarely see.

Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7389

A Visit to Goose Lake Prairie for the Fourth of July

Young male Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie, 7-4-15

Young male Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie, 7-4-15

To celebrate my fourth year of this blog (my how time flies) I am publishing two posts today, which doesn’t hardly make up for my lack of posting lately but it’s good to be relaxed and sitting in the air conditioning and not afraid of falling asleep over a million photos.

Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Song Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

It took me a while to get to this point, I had two months of pictures to go through or remove from my hard drive just so I could download what’s been accumulating on the camera the past two weeks.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

EAME Goose Lake Prairie 7-4-15-6398

I went to Goose Lake Prairie yesterday morning. I didn’t get there early enough to catch the Blue Grosbeak and Bald Eagle seen by another birder, but I was happy enough to find a cooperative Grasshopper Sparrow, lots of Henslow’s Sparrows that eluded my sight, let alone photographs, Sedge Wrens, and of course a plethora of Dickcissels.

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird, Goose Lake Prairie

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird, Goose Lake Prairie

I also believe I took really crummy photographs of an American Bittern flying but I am too shy to edit my ebird report seeing as how I would have to write it in. Maybe I’ll gain courage as the week goes on. Least Bittern is on the list for Goose Lake Prairie but for some reason American Bittern is not.

Juvenile Brown-Headed Cowbird

Juvenile Brown-Headed Cowbird

This is the time of year when the youngsters start to get a bit confusing. Like the Brown-Headed Cowbird above.

Common Yellowthroat, Goose Lake Prairie

Common Yellowthroat, Goose Lake Prairie

Common Yellowthroats are always singing and you never see them, so I was happy to have one finally show himself. Ironically, the recording underneath the picture begins with his song, which gets fainter I suppose as he moved farther away, but a Henslow’s Sparrow can be heard clearly in front of him and these were the birds I couldn’t see anywhere. I must have heard five or six of them singing.

Female Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie

Female Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Phoebe, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Phoebe, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Sedge Wren, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Bluebird, Goose Lake Prairie

Eastern Bluebird, Goose Lake Prairie

The Sedge Wrens were vocal too but I didn’t get a recording of them. And ironically for all the Dickcissels I don’t seem to have them either. I think I just have to start out an hour earlier next time.

DICK Goose Lake Prairie 7-4-15-6616

A pair of Dickcissels

DICK Goose Lake Prairie 7-4-15-6350

Female or juvenile Dickcissel, Goose Lake Prairie

Below is that butterfly I was too lazy to take out my other camera that had the closeup lens attached to it.

Mourning Cloak, Goose Lake Prairie

Mourning Cloak, Goose Lake Prairie

On the way back I stopped at the Lake Renwick Heron Rookery, which I was surprised to find open to the public, if only for half an hour. There were three staff on hand to make sure no one lingered in the park, which is normally off limits entirely during the breeding season. I have seen it from the other side but never this view before. I will have to go back now that I know it’s sometimes accessible.

Lake Renwick Heron Rookery

Lake Renwick Heron Rookery

Thanks to all who visit my blog and followers and friends! It’s been a fun four years and I hope to be back soon with many more observations inspired by my feathered friends.

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Grasshopper Sparrow, Goose Lake Prairie

Crow Post: Getting Caught Up with the Crows

Crow Face LSE Park 7-2-15-6010

It’s occurred to me, and likely to my Crow friends too, that I have not published a Crow Post in a while. It’s time to get caught up with the Crows.

Crow LSE Park 5-6-15-2

Murder of Crows Mich Ave 5-7-15-0021

A Murder of Crows over Michigan Avenue, May 17

Murder of Crows Mich Ave 5-7-15-0025

A small section of the Murder

I must admit I haven’t been out too much at lunch lately and when I have, the Crows have not always been around. The one day I went down early before work to see migrants back in May, I did have a small murder of Crows, if around 50 Crows can be called a small murder, as they gathered on a rooftop over Michigan Avenue and then took to the sky for a spring celebration.

Fledgling Crows, Lake Shore East Park, May 18

Fledgling Crows, Lake Shore East Park, May 18

I saw the first fledglings in May, and then we had such changeable weather. It’s safe to assume the crows were keeping a watchful eye on their youngsters and not parading them around very much.

Crow LSE Park 5-8-15-2-2AMCR LSE Park 5-15-15-0881

But last week I walked down to Lake Shore East Park with Crows on my mind and they materialized. Time to put in an order for more peanuts.

Fledgling Crow trying its wings

Fledgling Crow trying its wings

One Crow came and sat nearby. He settled in and I figured he was functioning sentry, but he also seemed to welcome my company as well. I think it’s my old friend Fuzzy. He sat on top of an electric box which I suspect runs the fountains or the lighting in the park.

Crow LSE Park 6-30-15-5861 Crow LSE Park 6-30-15-5845Crow LSE Park 6-30-15-5933

The flower beds have all been planted now, affording more places to stash peanuts.

Crows LSE Park 7-2-15-5993 Crow LSE Park 7-2-15-6028 Crow LSE Park 7-2-15-6010 Crow LSE Park 7-2-15-5983

The problem with the Crows is they aren’t afraid of the camera so I get lazy and take too many pictures and they get lazy too…

Crow LSE Park 5-18-15-2599Crows LSE Park 5-22-15-3026

On my way out I was greeted by a Crow at one of our favorite peanut deposit places (the distant crow out of focus, after he called in his buddies), the ledge across from the Radisson. I thought the human looking at her cell phone would prevent the Crows from landing, but they all seemed to know better than I did that she wouldn’t pay us a bit of notice.

Crows outside LSE Park 6-30-15-5948

I hope the Crows enjoyed the free Fourth of July concert last night in Grant Park. I’ll try to brave the heat tomorrow when I go back to work — we’ve finally crossed the threshold into summer weather — and see if I can hang out with them again in a shady spot. Now that the 50 pounds of peanuts have arrived.

Crow outside LSE Park 6-30-15-5959I took the picture below of the “Aqua” building, which is part of the whole Lake Shore East complex, on a whim on the 23rd because I go by it constantly, and it was a slow bird photography day. But now reading about the rooftop gardens and the limestone balconies I wonder how many of my crows visit. Oh to be a Crow in downtown Chicago.

Wave Building outside LSE Park 6-23-15-5572

Black-Crowned Night Heron on the Chicago River – Part 2

BCNH Chicago River 6-24-15-5588As promised, here are a few photos from this morning’s fortunate encounter with the Black-Crowned Night Heron. What attracts him to this portion of the Chicago River is anybody’s guess. Must be something about the morning commute. For sure no one is paying attention to him…except for some annoying birder with a camera.

BCNH Chicago River 6-24-15-5590BCNH Chicago River 6-24-15-5583

Later this afternoon I took a walk through Millennium Park and found a singing Northern Cardinal who must know me because after I took his picture he waited patiently while I shelled a three-peanut nut for him.

NOCA Millennium 6-24-15-5620And there were Cedar Waxwings, heard and then seen. I seem to be encountering more of these birds downtown lately.

CEWA Millennium 6-24-15-5636CEWA Millennium 6-24-15-5629

And now I must bid you all goodnight.

CEWA Millennium 6-24-15-5651

Black-Crowned Night Heron (BCNH) on the Chicago River – Part One

BCNH LaBagh 5-23-15-3229

Black-Crowned Night Heron, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Almost every work morning without fail, even in inclement weather, I have hauled the camera backpack downtown so I could be prepared, should the Black-Crowned Night Heron I have been seeing every spring downtown on the Chicago River show up again. Up until now I have not kept track of its visits on ebird, so I don’t know exactly when I saw it the last two or three years. I did find a picture of a piling in the river from June 4, 2014 on my cell phone, which must have been when I saw it last, but it’s hard to even see if there was a bird in it.

So I did take pictures of a Black-Crowned Night Heron at another part of the Chicago River, specifically LaBagh Woods, on May 23 this year when I joined Chicago Ornithological Society on a field trip. This was the first time I had been to the slough part at LaBagh. I hope I can find the slough again on my own next time I visit. It’s a magical place, reminding me of the Chicago Portage. The rest of the pictures in this post are from the LaBagh trip.

Mallard on Nest, LaBagh

Mallard on Nest, LaBagh Woods

I had all but given up on seeing the Black-Crowned Night Heron downtown, but I have been thinking about him, so I decided to do this post anyway today featuring the other one I saw up river last month.

Great Blue Heron, LaBagh, 5-23-15

Great Blue Heron, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Eastern Phoebe, LaBagh

Eastern Phoebe, LaBagh Woods

As luck would have it, this morning, on the way in, as I was walking north along the river which I have started doing now that the work has been completed that the city or the building owners were doing on the west side between Adams and Madison–there are enough trees and low-lying plants that make me think this could turn out to be a good place to visit during migration–I suddenly saw the downtown Black-Crowned Night Heron flying across the river and landing on the other side! By the time I took out my camera and put it together, it had flown back across the river again, underneath me, to where I could not see it.

Swainson's Thrush, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Eastern Kingbird, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Eastern Kingbird, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

But I did get pictures when it flew again, and I will post them tonight! I find it amusing that I was focused on seeing the heron and then it showed up this morning. Who was sending who messages?

Gray Catbird, LaBagh Woods

Gray Catbird, LaBagh Woods

In previous years I can recall only seeing the downtown heron for one morning, but now I believe anything can happen.

Blue-Gray Gnatcacher on nest, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15

Blue-Gray Gnatcacher on nest, LaBagh Woods, 5-23-15