Most Frequently Seen Fall Migrant

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Never uncommon during fall migration, this year Swainson’s Thrush wins my award for Most Frequently Seen Fall Migrant. And although all these pictures were taken at LaBagh Woods on Sunday, where there may have been 100 but I reported 45 of these birds, I have seen Swainson’s Thrushes downtown daily and there were plenty at Columbus Park on Saturday, though not always offering themselves up for photographs. I’m sure Safety In Numbers had a lot to do with the pictures I took Sunday. Not that there were that many other birds vying for my attention.

SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-5987SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-6209SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-5880SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-5869SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-6316

I give the bird below the award for Best Concealed Swainson’s Thrush Out In The Open.

SWTH LaBagh 9-14-14-6375

I hope to be back with more from recent near travels. I might not get out to see birds this weekend at all, so that could give me time to sit at the computer: I have a wedding to attend Saturday and rain is predicted for Sunday morning.

One Species at a Time

Blackpoll Warbler, Columbus Park

Blackpoll Warbler, Columbus Park

I have been trying to catch up with my blog and everyone else’s to no avail, so this is a quick one-species-post offering in the meantime. Over the weekend I attended the Chicago Ornithological Society walk through Columbus Park on Saturday and then went to LaBagh Woods on Sunday. Two bird species outnumbered all the others. In the warbler category, the most prominent was the Blackpoll.

Blackpoll Warbler, LaBagh Woods

Blackpoll Warbler, LaBagh Woods

This is the time of year when Blackpoll Warblers don’t look like Blackpoll Warblers do in the springtime. They are often confused with Bay-Breasted Warblers. Sadly I don’t have any recent Bay-Breasted photographs to compare these with. Overall, they appear more yellow than they do black and white (as in spring).

BPWA LaBagh Woods

BPWA LaBagh Woods

BPWA LaBagh

BPWA LaBagh Woods

B{WA Columbus Park

B{WA Columbus Park

BPWA Columbus Park

BPWA Columbus Park

The cool thing about going through so many shots in different settings is that I learn more about the “gizz” of the species through the constant review. So that next time I see a Blackpoll Warbler walking down the street in a crowd I will be able to pick it out immediately!

BPWA Columbus Park

BPWA Columbus Park

I will be back as soon as possible with photos of the Most Prominent Species (not a warbler) from last weekend.

Sunday’s Remainder

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Ottawa Trail Woods

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Ottawa Trail Woods

I wrote most of this last night…It’s hard to believe–as I sit here with the windows closed not because it is too hot but because it is unseasonably cold outside–that Sunday was hot and buggy. Every time I stopped to get a photograph or look about for telltale movement, I was sampled by some mosquito accessing a bug-spray-free spot on me. At some point one merely gives up or gives in. The insects know the end is nigh for them, so they partied hardy, like 1999.

Cedar Waxwing Tree, Chicago Portage

Cedar Waxwing Tree, Chicago Portage

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing

The birds certainly know something is up. Large flocks of Blackbirds, Robins, Cedar Waxwings and Mourning Doves assembled at the Chicago Portage last Sunday. I also had perhaps ten Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, finally, although it was still not possible to photograph them.

American Robin, Portage

American Robin, Portage

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Of course I was looking for more warblers. There were not very many. Three views of a Magnolia Warbler…

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

MAWA Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5415MAWA Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5418

I sometimes do not know how the camera finds these birds when I can barely see them. A few views of a Confusing Fall Warbler…see if you can find the bird in this tangle! At first I thought it was a Bay-Breasted, but then on closer inspection it is likely a Blackpoll. We affectionately refer to these quandaries as Baypoll Warblers. (You will have to click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Likely Blackpoll Warbler

BBWA Portage 9-7-14-5187BBWA Portage 9-7-14-5188Among a few other species present, I managed to catch a Tennessee Warbler and an Ovenbird.

Tennessee Warbler, Chicago Portage

Tennessee Warbler, Chicago Portage

Ovenbird, Chicago Portage

Ovenbird, Chicago Portage

My hunch that there might be more warbler action at Ottawa Trail, over by the Des Plaines River, did not prove to have any merit whatsoever. There were fewer birds altogether. But I did get a rather nice look at a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Juvenile Indigo Buntings were present in both places and also Gray-Cheeked Thrush, which is a less common thrush to see. RBWP Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5366 RBWP Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5382

Juvenile Indigo Bunting

Juvenile Indigo Bunting

Another Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Chicago Portage

Another Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Chicago Portage

It was only fitting to have a Red-Tailed Hawk fly by and put its stamp on the end of my outing.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Ottawa Trail Woods

Red-Tailed Hawk, Ottawa Trail Woods

Tomorrow I plan on going on Chicago Ornithological Society’s walk at Columbus Park. I haven’t been there in a couple years, even though it’s not far away. It will be interesting to see what we find. I was really looking forward to the original plan, which was to go to Humboldt Park as I have never been there, but the Chicago Park District has organized a weekend event called “Riot Fest” there, which makes conditions less promising for the birds and those who watch them.

Tempering the “Riot Fest” and maybe even our bird walk will be the forecast for early rain and cloudy skies! We are cloudy, rainy and in the 50’s today, so I can get in the mood when I go out later. Oh well.

A Flicker of Gold

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

I have longed to capture one of the most beautiful and amazing sights from several years ago when I was birding in the old Daley Bicentennial Plaza. A Northern (Golden-Shafted) Flicker flew right over my head and I was absolutely stunned by the shining gold of its spread wings. I never again wondered about the origin of the name “Golden-Shafted.”

Golden-Shafted Flicker

Golden-Shafted Flicker

Sunday morning at the Chicago Portage, I encountered what may have been a family group of Northern Flickers and spent time observing them. Individually Flickers can be pretty shy, so I was not about to pass up this opportunity. Although I was not able to get one to repeat my earlier experience, I did manage to capture a glimpse or two of the golden shafts, albeit from the back side.

Checking to make sure they left nothing behind?

Checking to make sure they left nothing behind?

Earlier this spring, a pair of Flickers spent much time discussing the nesting possibilities of this same dead stump. I never managed to check to see if they used it for that purpose but I imagine they did, their nesting experience was a successful one, and now they are reluctant to leave.

NOFL Portage 9-7-14-4865

Sometimes that white rump speeding away from me is all I will see of one of these birds. The light is rarely so fortunate to capture all this color.

NOFL Portage 9-7-14-4943

By the photo below, I now think the Flickers may have been attracted to this stump because they can blend in so well with it.

NOFL Portage 9-7-14-4864

More will follow eventually from Sunday’s excursion, in a subsequent post.

 

Fall Migration in the Chicago Loop

Wilson's Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Wilson’s Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

I haven’t hit any hot spots yet, but have started seeing a few migrant birds downtown. Tuesday morning I rescued a young Wood Thrush on my way to work. I visited Lake Shore East Park on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. At that location I have perhaps seen only seven warbler species so far, American Redstart, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Ovenbird, Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Tennessee Warbler and Wilson’s Warbler, with the Wilson’s being the most frequent. On Tuesday there were a few flycatchers, the most cooperative being a young Yellow-Bellied.

Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher

YBFL LSE Park 9-2-14-4578Below, a couple photos of the Black-and-White Warbler from Wednesday.

Black-and-White Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

BWWA LSE Park 9-3-14-4977

Also on Wednesday, a Nashville Warbler, most completely seen on the sidewalk.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

A couple more pictures of the Wilson’s Warbler below.
WIWA LSE Park 9-2-14-4734

WIWA LSE Park 9-3-14-4881

The Common Grackles have been congregating all week, eating acorns and bathing in the water features.

Bathing Grackles LSE Park 9-3-14-5162 Acorn on the steps to LSE Park 9-5-14-5293

At least it appears they are trying to eat the acorns.

Grackle w Acorn LSE Park 9-3-14-5086

I will be back soon. I’ve been busy, and the weather has been hot and muggy. The longer days must be getting to me, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. But we are fortunate enough to have some cooler, drier weather this weekend and I plan to take advantage of it Sunday morning.

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.