Is it a Slough? Is it a Marsh? It’s McGinnis!

Swamp Rose Mallow, McGinnis Slough

Swamp Rose Mallow, McGinnis Slough

After two weekends of extended field trips, it was good to kick back and save Sunday for a less brutally early rise to visit McGinnis Slough and the Chicago Portage and see how summer is going in my two most frequently visited locations. I originally intended to combine both in one post but it’s more than I can handle, so this is McGinnis and with luck the Portage post will follow tomorrow.

I can always count on seeing Great Egrets at McGinnis this time of year although depending on conditions, I never know quite where. Sometimes several trees are occupied like the one below, but this visit yielded only the one populated tree.

Great Egret Tree, McGinnis Slough

Great Egret Tree, McGinnis Slough

In spite of all the rain we had a couple weeks ago, we have not had enough to keep up with the heat, leaving the water levels nearly nonexistent in both places. The Great Blue Heron below appeared a bit disheveled sitting on a limb that stretched out above an area that nomally has more water than mud.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

McGinnis offered more birding by ear than sightings. Particularly frustrating was to hear Marsh Wrens close in the reeds but not see them. One did finally move so I could catch a glimpse but there were no photo opportunities. In spite of this I did record a song and have included a photo that depicts what I did not see.

Marsh Wren in the Reeds

Marsh Wren in the Reeds

House Wren Portage 7-27-14-1678

One House Wren was much easier to see, although I was a bit surprised by its presence.

 

House Wren Portage 7-27-14-1680

 

 

Perhaps the best song of the day was the Song Sparrow I never saw. I did get a picture of a juvenile at McGinnis not far from the House Wren. And a recording of the Song Sparrow, even if it’s not the one in the picture.

 

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Green Heron, McGinnis Slough

Green Heron, McGinnis Slough

I have been fortunate to see many Green Herons this summer. I never tire of them.

Cat Tail McGinnis 7-27-14-3533

I’ve concluded that for this summer, McGinnis is a marsh. Cat tails and tall reeds block a view of what must be mud flats, so I have no shorebirds to report. But the dragonflies are having a good time. This looks like a pair of Band-Winged Meadowhawks.

Dragonflies McGinnis 7-27-14-3539

There were not many butterflies, but this Eastern Comma caught my eye right out of the parking lot.

Comma Butterfly, McGinnis

Comma Butterfly, McGinnis

I’ll be back with a word or two from the Chicago Portage.

Yard Work

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

When I write a to-do list, “yard work” is always on it somewhere, but unfortunately doesn’t get done often enough and just when I think I’m beginning to make the slightest dent in the weeds and overgrowth…it rains and everything grows back again. With a vengeance.

Blooms Yard 7-19-14-1566

When this past Saturday turned out cool and dry, I could not resist spending time in the yard, so I dug and pulled and trimmed and made somewhat of a dent in the weed cover. I should probably thin out the area by the back fence that has been taken over by Purple Coneflower, Evening Primrose, Goldenrod and Rudbeckia, but I haven’t yet. Especially when it’s crowded with bees and butterflies enjoying the flower forest. I stopped gardening and started taking a few pictures when the Tiger Swallowtail flew in to enjoy the coneflowers. The Swallowtail and the Red Admiral must get some of their coloring from these flowers.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

The birds stay out of the yard when I’m in it so I had a chance to pay more attention to the insects. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this pretty little fly before.

Tachina Fly Yard 7-19-14-2942

Tachina Fly

I have been fascinated by these little bees with the bright yellow on their legs for years and I think they must be Mining Bees.

Mining Bee Yard 7-19-14-2936

Mining Bee

Last year I was dreaming about planting milkweed so after I dug out all my butterfly bush that had grown for years by the north fence, I planted some milkweed seeds, but they never sprouted. However I have been noticing milkweed plants where I did not put them. I imagine the birds heard I wanted milkweed and brought the plants to me. The ones in the first picture below are not blooming yet, but the second picture is of a Swamp Milkweed that had buds on it when I took the photograph. It finally had blooms this evening, so I will have to go back for another picture. I’m very excited about the Swamp Milkweed even though I am puzzled why it thinks my yard is a swamp.

Milkweed Yard 7-19-14-1561

Swamp Milkweed

Swamp Milkweed

I took too many pictures of the Swallowtail and he never completely opened up his wings for me, but I was happy to have him as my favorite subject anyway.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Yard 7-19-14-1543I haven’t managed to study the bumblebees yet, but I am always happy to see them, they’re very friendly. Sometimes I find one curled up in a bloom overnight. I went out to fill the bird feeder one night this past week, so I wouldn’t have to do it in the morning before work, and found a bumblebee tucked up underneath it. I left him to his slumber and filled the feeder in the morning.

Bee Yard 7-19-14-2928The Red Admiral didn’t open his wings for me either. Oh well.

Red Admiral Yard 7-19-14-2907We had beastly hot weather for a couple days and now we have cooled off again. I recall the same thing happened last summer. Strange weather pattern, but I love the cooler temperatures.

One more shot of the Swallowtail with sprays of orange-red pollen all over.

Tiger Swallowtail Yard 7-19-14-1494

Rollins Savanna Field Trip with Evanston North Shore Bird Club

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Female Red-Winged Blackbird

It’s been a long day, starting at precisely 3:08 AM, although I was semi-awake at 2:30 in anticipation of the alarm clock. I knew the indoor birds would be a bit confused by my poking around in the dark and I tried to let them sleep as long as possible, but I eventually left a light on a timer to go off after it got lighter. When I left at 5:30 it was just barely starting to get light, for the days are shortening. Following are pictures of a few of the species seen today on the Evanston North Shore Bird Club field trip led by Beau Schaefer.

The long drive north yielded four Red-Tailed Hawks perched on lamp posts by the highway, and a dense foggy dew that just began to lift when I reached my destination around 6:37 AM. I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t early enough to capture the fog with the camera.

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks

As it is, I didn’t realize until halfway through the walk that one reason why I was having a hard time capturing photos, other than the birds being pretty far away and often backlit, was that I had attached the wrong lens to the wrong camera (I’ve been getting better luck with the 100-400mm and the 5D, using the 7D for the macro lens – only I had them switched). So I guess the best scenario would have been to assemble the cameras and lenses last night before I went to bed, if I was a little bit more coherent than this morning. Unfortunately one never knows.

Lots of Common Yellowthroats – no surprise there. But the only one that perched in view was in the shadow of the cup plant.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

One bird I was definitely counting on seeing at Rollins, as I have always seen them there, was a Sedge Wren. I was not disappointed. I had heard them at Goose Lake Prairie but never found one. However, as many Sedge Wrens as we heard this morning at Rollins, they weren’t all that easy to spot, until one finally sat up in a straddled fashion and sang his heart out for us. Below, a couple photographs and recordings.

Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren

SEWR Rollins 7-20-14-3001

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The first Eastern Meadowlark we saw appeared to have taken a bath. There were better views of another individual much later. We also had a few Bobolinks but none close enough for an image.

EAML Rollins 7-20-14-1624 EAML Rollins 7-20-14-1608

Rollins has various small bodies of water and depending on the depth, attracts water birds and shorebirds. I didn’t bother trying to take pictures of the shorebirds although we saw Short-Billed Dowitcher, Pectoral Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs and more Killdeer than we could count. This list is from memory and I may be leaving something out. Toward the end of the walk, the Great Egret below was visible through an opening, and so was a Great Blue Heron earlier, but I think I may have captured them both better in flight.

GREG Rollins 7-20-14-1592

GREG Rollins 7-20-14-1602 GBHE Rollins 7-20-14-1661

I was surprised to find the camera captured a Tree Swallow when I don’t even remember trying for it. I sometimes forget the camera has a mind of its own.

TRSW Rollins 7-20-14-1627

The last picture is perhaps the first bird we saw, an energetic Song Sparrow.

Song Sparrow with his back to us

Song Sparrow with his back to us

In general it was a good day to be out, didn’t get too uncomfortably hot or buggy, and we were a good group of manageable size. Beau Schaefer led us at a fairly rapid pace, thus ensuring we got exercise. And I am grateful to now know where the additional parking lot is on the other side of the preserve, so next time I go, I will not feel overwhelmed about walking the entire trail. There are also a lot of cyclists to watch out for the later it gets, emphasizing the logic of starting out around 6:30 AM.

My car reports it is happy about all the extra driving we did today. I treated it to some cheaper gas and a car wash. Doesn’t get any better.

Lake Katharine

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Last Sunday morning I managed to get up early and find Lake Katharine, which is directly south from where I live. Dick Riner mentioned it to me when I visited Bartel Grasslands, so I decided to check it out. It’s part of the Cook County Forest Preserve system. Although it’s surrounded by suburban sprawl, it has a variety of well-managed habitats and I will return.

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

I started out walking east from the parking lot to take in the prairie/grassland portion. It was overcast and a bit cool so there wasn’t a lot of activity yet, but I was not planning on staying long anyway since I had a cousins’ lunch to attend in the afternoon.

Is this Purple Loosestrife?

Is this Purple Loosestrife?

Japanese Beetle on Thistle

Japanese Beetle on Thistle.

I didn’t manage to visit the Nature Center this time but I will on my next visit. According to the website, Lake Katharine has many educational and volunteer programs in place to get people involved with nature. I was just enjoying the scenery like this huge sunflower and imagining how many goldfinches would be hanging upside down on it as soon as the seeds ripen.

Sunflower 7-13-14-2732Sunflower Seeds 7-13-14-2735

Out of the wildflowers and heading toward the west end of the lake, I walked a path with a wooded area which is where I encountered the Black-Crowned Night Heron at the beginning of the post. It landed in a tree not too far away, but when it saw me it spent time trying to hide behind whatever branches were between us. I guess when he figured out I wasn’t going to leave until I got a picture with all of his head in it, he gave in.

Dragonflies were one reason why I came, but I was able to barely photograph only this one and I don’t know what it is, fledgling dragonfly observer that I am. I don’t think the picture offers enough detail to be absolutely certain.

Dragonfly - Pond Hawk 7-13-14-1312

Male Blue Dasher – thanks for the ID, Linda!

Grass 7-13-14-2712

Unknown Grass

Froggies 7-13-14-1314

Froggies?

I’m also soliciting identification of the grass – I gave up after clicking on a list with links to pictures and descriptions of maybe 100 different grasses that occur in Illinois.

When I got to the water and stopped to look, the shallows seemed to be bubbling with life. Occasionally I did see bubbles but for the most part I felt as if I was being watched by a couple hundred eyes from submerged frogs. I am not good at identifying frogs so I have no idea if they were really frogs or my overactive imagination.

American Robin

American Robin

Robins are everywhere, busy with their nests and most likely working on a second clutch. I have seen juvenile Robins but this adult felt like posing with a grub. A few robins are still singing a phrase here and there.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

I saw the Great Egret before the Caspian Tern. I went around the trail to get a closer look at the egret and started talking with another Dick who was also taking pictures. He works at Lake Katherine and maintains the grounds, which is too huge a task for me to imagine. The tern flew over us as we were talking. According to Dick the tern has been making an appearance daily.

GREG 7-13-14-1398When I did finally get close enough for a better picture of the egret, it decided it had had enough of posing and scratched an itch.

GREG 7-13-14-1407I am going to sleep early so I can get up and join the Evanston North Shore Bird Club’s field trip to Rollins Savanna in Grayslake, Illinois. It will take me an hour to get there, even at 5:30 in the morning. Rollins was on my list of places to visit, I haven’t been there in a couple years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the entire place, but a four-hour field trip should cover it all and satisfy my curiosity. (Oh, and it’s good for the car to get some exercise beyond running local errands. I need motivation to get up at 3:00 a.m.)

The Elusive Bell’s Vireo

Bell's Vireo

Bell’s Vireo

Bell’s Vireos have a reputation for sounding like they should be in plain sight but hiding behind the curtain, if you will. At least that has been my experience with those that breed in Illinois, so it was particularly rewarding to get pretty good looks, if not great pictures, of a Bell’s Vireo in Texas the last day of our trip.

Bell's Vireo 4-30-14-9724

We dispersed early in the morning to bird the grounds of Neal’s Lodges individually before leaving for the Austin airport. I thought I had a better recording of this bird’s song, for all the singing he was doing, but there seems to be interference from road noise and several other birds. Anyway, the Bell’s is the intermittent but emphatic little chattery song, if you can hear it.

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Bell's Vireo 4-30-14-9751

It’s possible one of the other birds singing a bit is a Black-Throated Sparrow. I was delighted to find him and get a few pictures as well. The last time I saw this species was almost two and a half years ago in New Mexico. Hard to believe it’s been that long.

Black-Throated Sparrow

Black-Throated Sparrow

The bird has to be facing you to see the black throat for which it’s named. Otherwise you need to be familiar with its other field marks, like the broad white supercilium.

Black-Throated Sparrow 4-30-14-9666

Black-Throated Sparrow 4-30-14-9670

There was also a cooperative Clay-Colored Sparrow, but I don’t hear his buzzy song on this recording.

Clay-Colored Sparrow 4-30-14-9484

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow 4-30-14-9657 Clay-Colored Sparrow 4-30-14-9685

Indoor birds and I are listening to Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride on the Tuesday Night Opera with Peter Van De Graaff on WFMT. It seems a good night to stay home, close the windows to retain some heat overnight, turn on the oven and roast veggies. The drop in temperature dictates coziness.

 

TGIF and Miscellaneous Observations

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal's Lodges

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal’s Lodges, Uvalde County, Texas

It’s been a long week short on inspiration, and the weekend promises to be full of rain so I will not be birding far away, if at all. As it turns out I have made plans to visit with friends and family I haven’t seen for a while. Perfect timing to include a visit to my dentist as well. My People Weekend. And with the coming July Polar Vortex, I am already dreaming of doing yard work without sweat.

I took off work early yesterday to be on hand for the tow truck driver who eventually showed up and whisked away the old car. This has been one event foremost in my mind, of things I really wanted to get done. The Taurus started happily after sitting idle in my backyard for 3 months, as if looking forward to its next destination. The cell phone picture below shows its better side with the intact side mirror. Maybe you can see the rust underneath where the side panel fell off if you click on the picture.

Final Farewell

Final Farewell

Goodbye, Old Paint

Goodbye, Old Paint

Like Gregory the dachshund my parents gave away to an adoring childless couple after my brother was born, the car didn’t even look back at me. I suspect the car knows it’s going to a better place too.

After I came in from the yard, with the cell phone still handy, I took a picture of some of the finches waiting in the kitchen for me to resume the snack service. They seemed oblivious to cell phone pictures, but I still have hopes of stalking them with the real camera, which they resist, at an opportune moment. The four newest Society Finches (Bella, Johnnie, Franklin and Marty) are huddled together on the right with a male Zebra Finch (it could be Zorro), and one Spice Finch is preening himself at the far left.

Finches on the Pot Rack

Finches on the Pot Rack

While waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I managed to put my pictures from our Texas trip back on the laptop and started going through them, which explains the Roadrunner at the top and the rest below. There will be more to come as I rediscover them. It’s more fun to go back two-plus months in time than I thought it would be.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow possibly shopping for nesting material...

Barn Swallow shopping for nesting material.

Chipping Sparrows were everywhere.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

And it seemed after we saw the first Clay-Colored Sparrow, by the end of the trip, they too were everywhere.

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow 4-30-14-9450

I went to check our ebird list for April 30th when we birded around Neal’s Lodges that morning, and the Blue Grosbeak was not on it. I have now added it to the list.

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

I will be back with more discoveries from the Texas trip and a bird song or two.

Have a wonderful, peaceful weekend.

Not Just Another Grassland: Bartel

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

I thought to myself earlier in the week, looking forward to birding two grasslands, that by this time I might have had my fill of this type of habitat, but to the contrary, the next places to visit, circling in my mind, are more of the same. Except that they have not been and will not be the same. Yes, I saw some of the same species at Bartel Grassland that were at Goose Lake Prairie. But there were others that were different. And the habitats are remarkably unique within themselves.

Gathering for the Walk

Gathering for the Walk

Of course it was a different experience going on a field trip with the Chicago Ornithological Society (COS) and 15-20 people (it seemed like a large group) than being totally alone. But whatever I lost in being able to record sounds, I probably gained in sightings. And the genial camaraderie of birding with people, some of whom I knew or had encountered before, falling in and out of conversations along the trail, was welcome, and as always, educational.

Prairie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover

I haven’t been to Bartel for years, and then perhaps only twice. It is an ongoing restoration project. Each time I have been with a group and Dick Riner, the site steward, has been available for guidance and comment. I wish I had time to volunteer, to learn more from Dick and to experience the grassland from the ground up as it changes through the seasons. But I’m finding it hard enough to work in my own backyard. And the way Dick tells it, the high school kids are the best volunteers because of their energy physical capabilities. Grassland restoration is hard work!

Great Blue chased by RWBB 7-6-14-0966

Weather-wise we started out overcast and even a bit chilly. But that was not enough to stop a Red-Winged Blackbird from harassing a Great Blue Heron.

RWBB piggybacking on GRBH 7-6-14-0974

Someone mentioned the blackbird was riding piggyback on the heron. I can’t tell if the photograph above captured this or if it was some ruffled feathers, but you get the idea.

One of the target birds was Henslow’s Sparrow, which we heard quite a bit before we actually saw one. All the birds were too far away to photograph but I took my chances anyway and managed to get a few.

Henslow's Sparrow

Henslow’s Sparrow

We had a couple Savannah Sparrows that were a bit closer to the trail.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

At times the trail, or the beginning of one, stopped abruptly.

Marianne Hahn Trail 7-6-14-1199Marianne Hahn Trail Sign 7-6-14-1199

Perhaps best represented of the target birds were Boboliniks, even though Dick told us we seemed to have just missed most of them, when a few days ago there were perhaps hundreds more gathering to fly south toward their wintering grounds in Argentina. Bartel has the second largest population of breeding Bobolinks in Illinois, the first being at Midewin. But Midewin is so huge you might never be able to see as many as we did today. There were about 20. The females were a little easier to get pictures of.

Bobolink (male)

Male Bobolink

Two views of a female. Click on the pictures and you might actually be able to see them!

Female Bobolink 7-6-14-1171

Female Bobolink

Female Bobolink

Eastern Meadowlarks…were present but difficult to capture. Still it was nice to see as well as hear them.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The milkweed is thick and in full bloom at Bartel, and insects could not resist it. I found this bee hanging from it at the very start.

Bee on Milkweed

Bee on Milkweed

I don’t think I have ever seen a Halloween Pennant before. This is a new dragonfly for me, and quite a flashy one.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Whatever the moth on the milkweed, it was not revealing itself to me. But by now the sun was shining brightly, offering a better picture.

Milkweed 7-6-14-1090

Another look at the Savannah Sparrow.

Savannah Sparrow 7-6-14-1111

On the way back to my car I noticed the Blazing Star starting to bloom.

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

It’s been a beautiful weekend.

It’s going to be hard to go to work tomorrow.

To be continued…