End of July Tidbits

Here’s what was going on at the Chicago Portage the mornings of July 29 and 31. Pretty much what can be expected mid-summer. Feeding fledglings and molting. A busy time for the birds.

On July 31st there was what appeared to be a family of Eastern Kingbirds.

I didn’t manage to get them all in one photograph but there were four Eastern Kingbirds total.

I can expect to see an American Goldfinch in the duckweed this time of year, and I can never entirely resist documenting its presence.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were here and there, if not always easy to see. But then they hardly ever are. The bird in the tiled series looks to be a juvenile.

After barely seeing a Downy Woodpecker out in the open for a few months, it was nice to see this one out and about. It looks to be a young bird as well.

Tadziu the famous Indigo Bunting was busy with his feather upkeep, on a fallen log close to his bridge.

The distant Indigo Bunting below was more disheveled.

A young-looking Marsh Wren was investigating this fallen log.

A young American Robin was curious about the camera attention.

The American Robins below appeared to be sunbathing on the gravel path. I tried not to disturb them for as long as I could.

An juvenile American Robin caught in flight, below.

It’s not often that I catch a Northern Flicker still for a moment.

Below, two Red-bellied Woodpeckers. The first appears to be a juvenile.

The bottomlands near the Des Plaines were flooded both days. A little less on the 31st than the 29th.

My “first” bridge is the southernmost one, and here’s the view I’m getting these days from it.

In the photos below, first a Blue Dasher Dragonfly visible from the bridge on July 31. I saw the turtle covered in duckweed later after I set out on the path after crossing the bridge.

The Hobomok Skipper Butterfly was available for photos on July 29. You can get an idea of how small this creature is by the leaves it’s on.

It seems lately I have been seeing one female Brown-headed Cowbird on every visit. This was her best photograph.

The trees that darken the path over on the north side are such a contrast to the open areas of the preserve. Some are purportedly hundreds of years old.

Here’s another profile of the Eastern Kingbird who was featured at the top of the post.

I was in Riverside yesterday morning and I will have a post soon with what’s going on down by the river there. I had planned to go elsewhere this morning, but I am temporarily catering to the complaints of my right knee which caused me to wear the brace again and venture no farther than the grocery stores. If I can walk well enough tomorrow morning I will go out again.

More Summer Portage Passages

We have threats of thunderstorms this morning and perhaps later in the afternoon, but like yesterday so far it seems to be a waiting game with periods of drizzle.

The last time I saw a Great-crested Flycatcher at the Chicago Portage was on July 22nd. I imagine they’re still around but I am not sure I have heard them lately either. This one was just close enough to capture with the 400mm lens.

I managed to focus for a while on a disheveled-looking Northern Flicker. I waited and waited for him to take off, hoping to capture him in flight, but he beat me to it.

A Spicebush Swallowtail was present both days.

You might expect the beetle below to be named after its vibrant color but instead it’s named after six tiny little white spots which might be more visible in the second photograph.

Whatever the attraction is to the dirt path, this female Powdered Dancer damselfly stayed there long enough.

Tadziu the Indigo Bunting is just as fond of his sunshine perch as he is of the other one across the bridge in the shade.

When there isn’t a lot going on to distract me, I tend to focus on whatever activity exists. Starved for action, I could not resist taking pictures of two young-looking Warbling Vireos who were busy in the mulberries. Berries require less work for them than bugs, I imagine. And as for me, it’s only a matter of time before I get to apply these skills to fall warblers.

The contrast between July 22 and July 25 before and after some rain is evident in the photos below of the bottomlands by the Des Plaines River.

It’s usually easier to get a decent photograph of a female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer.

Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

This is pretty much how the water looks at the Portage these days. A sea of green.

I have some photos from two more visits at the very end of July, and then it’s looking for signs of more activity in August as fledglings turn into juveniles and thoughts of fall migration start to emerge.

In the meantime, sitting on my front porch yesterday afternoon, I had a brief visit from a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird sitting in the apple tree. I hope to eventually get a few photos of her in action at the flowers or the feeders.

Summer Passages at the Chicago Portage

Although I’ve been to the Chicago Portage more recently, I’m posting some photographs and a couple recordings from last month that hadn’t made it into posts anywhere near the days I took them. These are some views of likely suspects from visits made on July 6 and July 10. I then plan to be back with two or three subsequent installments after I process four more recent July days’ worth of photographs. Depending on what happens, I could sneak in another location here and there…

For the record, the male Indigo Buntings that were everywhere singing last month are still singing but not as much and they’re less visible than the one below, taken on July 6.

Tadziu the Indigo Bunting was available on July 10 for photographs and additions to his Greatest Hits, but the lighting was poor for the former. However, I feel obligated to share his portrait anyway.

And here are the last recordings I made of my celebrity.

Tadziu with American Robin and House Wren in the background
Tadziu with Northern Cardinal, House Wren and Warbling Vireo

American Goldfinches have been busy in the duckweed.

Perched over the water and then taking off for better prospects, a Green Heron was distantly available on July 10.

Just by chance I happened on an Eastern Towhee family. You have to look at the second photo below to see the juvenile which is somewhat obscured by the female in the first photo. I heard the male Eastern Towhee singing this past Tuesday, but did not see him. It would be nice to see the family again before the end of the summer.

It was still hard to resist photographing the Prairie Coneflower and whatever the second yellow flower is, that I see blooming upon first entering the woods from the south paved trail.

I got lucky on the 10th and managed a few photographs of a Warbling Vireo. They are still around but not as vocal as they were, so these days it’s hard to tell how many might be present.

Another species becoming more visible lately is Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.

I have barely heard or seen a White-breasted Nuthatch. This one was on the 6th.

Also on July 6th the House Wren below was flying out of my frame.

The Brown-headed Cowbirds were still all over the place too, on July 6.

The Northern Flicker below wasn’t too easy to see, but I was intrigued enough by all the colors on him, popping out from behind the leaves.

Below is an unusually visible Gray Catbird, and below it, an Eastern Wood-Pewee.

And American Robins are always up to something.

I will be back with more composite posts from the Chicago Portage. In another week or two I expect to see more birds, with the added confusion of molting and juvenile plumages.

The Other Goose Lake and Beyond

On Tuesday morning, I made it up to the Hebron Trail in a little over an hour and a half. I didn’t leave quite as early as planned; I woke up to some sort of a circuit-breaker issue in the kitchen which had disabled my Internet access but it was a temporary fix after all and it became more a matter of resetting clocks on the coffee pot and microwave and WFMT on the boombox.

As I started to write this yesterday, we were experiencing a lovely downpour. When I went to empty out places where rain accumulates later it looked like we got an inch in about 20 minutes.

Even though Goose Lake Natural Area has received more rain and is no longer considered in drought status, the water levels are still extremely low and that continues to make it really hard to see Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I walked the trail to the lookout, and stood there for maybe a half hour or so, not seeing too much of anything. I thought how nice it would be if a Yellow-headed Blackbird came close enough to the platform so that I could see it well enough, and then one did. It looks to be a molting adult male.

There are always plenty of Song Sparrows here and I recorded the one below singing.

Song Sparrow – Goose Lake Natural Area

Here are a few more Song Sparrow photos of various individuals.

Also present were several Common Yellowthroats, starting with one on the trail.

A look at the trail as it stretches out into the open, and then a view of the marshy area with a verbascum thapsis, or Great Mullein, right by the trail.

There were a few Canada Geese which I did not bother with, and. below, some American Coots, but hardly enough water for much else. I did see a couple Great Egrets come in for a landing later but they were totally obscured by vegetation.

I encountered a tree full of Red-winged Blackbirds. There may have been a Yellow-headed Blackbird in this group too. But between the backlighting and the distance I took it for mostly Red-winged Blackbirds and juveniles at that.

I am always intrigued by the female Red-winged Blackbirds.

The female Red-winged Blackbird below was showing off her captured bug.

Below, the bird on the left is a Gray Catbird and the bird on the right, a male Red-winged Blackbird.

Red-winged Blackbirds in the Compass Plants
A likely juvenile Red-winged Blackbird

After hearing a Willow Flycatcher or two, I managed to photograph this one.

As I stood on the platform, suddenly six Sandhill Cranes flew overhead and into the marsh, where they disappeared into the tall grass.

On the way back to my car I saw this juvenile Northern Flicker.

And followed a Barn Swallow as it swooped around. Bothering with this exercise in futility attests to my desperation.

I did see a sitting Ruby-throated Hummingbird on my way back out. Actually, a friendly young cyclist with binoculars had stopped to talk with me and mentioned she had seen this bird. She also told me I could check out North Branch which was only a few minutes away.

Even though it was getting late in the day and almost 11:00 AM, I decided to go and check out the North Branch Conservation Area. Indeed it was only a few minutes away by car. As it turns out, were one to walk the entire length of the Hebron Trail, you could cross Keystone Road and continue on the gravel-paved trail that runs through North Branch. Although this is a fine plan on a bike, I doubt seriously I will ever do this as I have never even walked the entire 5.5 miles of the Hebron Trail and it is another 1.5 miles at the North Branch connection, making it a round-trip 14 miles. Perfect on a bike, but not on foot. But it’s good to know the two are connected and provide extensive habitat.

The first thing I noticed when I started walking the trail at North Branch was dramatic billowing clouds in the blue sky.

Below are a few scenes of the prairie at North Branch. The middle photo features Cupplant which looks a lot tamer than the towering monsters that have overtaken my backyard.

That late in the day I didn’t know what birds I might see. I definitely wasn’t hearing much at that hour. But there were a couple very busy Eastern Kingbirds.