Putzing Around the Portage

amgo-portage-10-23-16-3645amgo-portage-10-23-16-3474Yesterday morning was perfect fall weather, the sun was shining, it was cool but comfortable, and it seemed like I should walk around and get used to taking pictures looking through the camera lens with the right eye again. I have had the new prescription for a week.


In any event I take back whatever I said last time I posted about the Chicago Portage. Perhaps absence does make the heart grow fonder. I noticed when I submitted my bird list to ebird that a month had passed since my last visit. Just seeing the old place in the beginning of its fall colors felt like coming home.

A lot of issues with shadows yesterday. The angle of the sunlight and its brightness made some of the photos almost useless. Above, one of two Cooper’s Hawks, a too-bright White-Throated Sparrow and a House Finch.

The Red-Tailed Hawk above appeared momentarily after the Cooper’s Hawks left. I was glad to have arrived at bird-of-prey time.

Most numerous of all species were Mallards, although there was a group of 26 Canada Geese too.

Above, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. As the days grow ever shorter, chances to see both species will diminish.

I was surprised to see so many House Finches, like the two above. Maybe the habitat change is taking effect.


Song Sparrow

I caught this Song Sparrow too busy eating something to flush, and thankfully for me, he was in better light.

Black-Capped Chickadee and Dark-Eyed Junco… the Junco is proof that winter is on the way.


Carolina Wren

I heard the Carolina Wren while I had stopped to talk to a fellow Portager, and was very glad to find it later, even if it was somewhat hidden from view. I haven’t seen or heard Carolina Wrens here for at least 2 years. But migration being what it is I shouldn’t get my hopes too high.

Even though I missed the raptors flying, I did get a helicopter. Maybe I scared it away with my lens… The photo on the right is just some marshy overgrowth.


American Goldfinch

The Goldfinches were numerous and busy eating. I’ve been busy too planting more for them to eat this time of year in my yard, since they seem to have turned their beaks up at the niger seed. But if I can’t attract the flocks I used to with that stuff at least it’s good to see them happy at the Portage.

I’ll be back with Part 3 of the Galapagos.

Galapagos Part 2: Genovese Island


Short-Eared (Galapagos) Owl

Life has been getting in the way a bit more lately: my apologies for the delayed post. Every time I go back to these photographs I think it will be easy, that I must have been done with them, and then I find out that is not the case. Then I was looking forward to a weekend without much planned thinking I was going to do a lot of work at the computer and it just didn’t happen.

I think WordPress takes matters into its own hands when I haven’t posted for a while and generates some kind of phenomenal amount of hits, then sends me a message our of the blue saying my blog is really popular. This has happened to me twice lately. I get the hint. Okay, back to work.

These photographs were all taken on Monday, July 11, 2016 as we visited what is called Prince Phillip’s Steps in the morning, on Genovese Island, and Darwin Bay on the other side in the afternoon. Galapagos Dove and Nazca Boobies above.

This was the only island where we could see Red-Footed Boobies.


Some Nazca Boobies had youngsters. There seemed to be a problem trying to feed too large a fish to the fledgling.

This Swallow-Tailed Gull below seemed to be having the same problem. I suspect there may be an upset in the availability of smaller prey. But at least they weren’t trying to feed plastic.

The Swallow-Tailed Gulls are quite striking. You will likely see them again in future posts. We even got treated to a pair that was copulating.

It was a real treat to spend time with the Short-Eared (Galapagos) Owl below. Leave it to a Galapagos Mockingbird to bother him. As always, feel free to click on the pictures to get a larger view.

I think I spent the entire trip trying to get a decent photograph of a Red-Billed Tropicbird. There is likely a better flight shot down the line in a future post. In any event we got to see a lot of them on Genovese and even discovered one nesting (below).

nesting-red-billed-tropicbird-gal16b-lisa-spellman-7285Magnificent Frigatebirds also call this island home.

And we got to see what to my uneducated eye is the difference between the Magnificent and the Great Frigatebird: a blue-green sheen to the plumage of the latter.

And of course we had Darwin’s Finches! Four different species on this island. The first, below, is the Large Ground Finch.

Then, the Large Cactus Finch.

And we also had the Sharp-Beaked Ground Finch.

Also, below, the Gray Warbler-Finch.

Not to be confused with the Yellow Warbler.


Yellow Warbler

We also saw a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron trying to sleep.


Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

And I think this was the only time we got to see a Galapagos Fur Seal.

galapagos-fur-seal-7-11-16-7360Not to be confused with the ever-present Galapagos Sea Lion.

More Sally Lightfoot Crabs…

Back at the catamaran, we were treated to another fruit sculpture and received our marching orders for the next day.

I’ll try to be a better blogger and come back sooner. If nothing else, just to escape the landslide into November 8th.


City Migrants – Fall Migration 2016

If I’d been thinking clearly I probably would have postponed the cataract removal until after fall migration, but I ventured anyway into the wilds of downtown Chicago after I convinced myself that with patience and practice I could temporarily look through the view finder on the Canon with my left eye… Anyway, I managed to find quite a few cooperative birds to photograph and have decided to share them now before I invite you back to the Galapagos. A couple more shots of the Chestnut-Sided Warbler below. Responding to my thoughts, as I’m taking pictures of him, of “what a beautiful bird you are.”

First-year male American Redstarts are always welcome.

Things didn’t seem to get really active until last week. There’s probably a whole lot more I could have done if I put my mind to it, but I’ll get my new prescription lens in a few days and with luck, all my kvetching will fade away. (Don’t hold me to it!)

Red-Winged Blackbirds breed in Millennium Park so these birds below likely hatched this year.

Below, a Canada Warbler on the left and a Wilson’s Warbler on the right, both at Lake Shore East Park a couple weeks ago. The Canada was shy.

Juvenile European Starlings in their in-between plumage, which I find fascinating. They look more like “Star”-lings to me. They’re not exactly migrants…unless they’re from another planet?

starlings-9-9-2016-lse-park-0604I wonder if the Common Grackle below could be a molting adult, without its long tail.

cogr-9-16-2016-lse-molting-1005Magnolia Warblers have been coming through for weeks.


Not a lot of thrushes this year – sometimes they show up in large groups. A Gray-Cheeked Thrush that was at 155 N. Wacker on the left, and a Hermit Thrush on the right and below.


Hermit Thrush

Two views of an Orange-Crowned Warbler at the Boeing garden, below.

Two Blackpoll Warblers…

Similar to the Blackpoll but a bit different this time of year, a Bay-Breasted Warbler. I think! Confusing Fall Warblers redux.


Bay-Breasted Warbler…?

Two more Blackpolls below.

And now, signalling the tail end of warbler migration, Palm Warblers, below…

and Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Myrtle subspecies).

And the same two species in flight, Palm on the left, Yellow-Rumped (with the yellow rump showing), below. Note the similarities…and differences.

My prize discovery last week was a beautiful male Black-Throated Blue Warbler. I think we have been seeing more of this species the last couple years but it’s still not common and always special. Luckily this one liked to show off.


Black-Throated Blue Warbler

Golden-Crowned Kinglets are coming through but hard to capture in cloudy light. Or at least that’s my excuse.

gcki-9-29-2016-lse-park-1873On the 29th I saw this presumably female Wilson’s Warbler, below, at Lake Shore East Park, and am glad I had pictures to prove it to ebird – apparently it’s late in the season to see a Wilson’s. Others reported seeing them too, in the area.

I always look forward to the return of the White-Throated Sparrows. I have seen a couple other species too and I’m hoping to take some pictures of them this week.

The Black-and-White below appears to be a female.


Black-and-White Warbler

A late Magnolia.


Magnolia Warbler

Red-Breasted Nuthatches are visible this year.


Red-Breasted Nuthatch

I have a new crop of juvenile Crows that look for me. We will hang out more over the winter months when there are no more migrants.


I had to run an errand on Friday all the way over to the river, and on the way back into the office, as I crossed the street at Wells and Madison, I heard a loud “caw-caw-caw.” I stopped and looked up but saw nothing. “Caw-caw-caw” again. I waited. People streamed by me on their way to wherever, I’m sure they did not hear the crow, and no one was curious about why I had stopped to look. Then, in the top branches of a locust tree planted in the sidewalk across the street, the crow moved. After we acknowledged each other’s presence, he was silent. I crossed the street to get a better look and he appeared to be fiddling with something dark but I can’t say what it was, a bat, shoe leather, hard to tell without binoculars. But how nice to be recognized by this super-intelligent creature. Made my day.🙂

Introduction to the Galapagos


Blue-Footed Booby

I never thought going through pictures I took two months ago would be so therapeutic, but it turns out after being away from them and the pressure hanging over my head to get through them when life got too much in the way, it’s feeling pretty good to go back to the Galapagos through these memories. These pictures are all from Day One.

Our first morning we flew from Quito to Guayaquil and then to Baltra Island. While waiting at the dock to be transported to the catamaran sailing vessel where we would spend 9 days visiting as many of the islands as possible, it became apparent that we might be seeing sea lions and marine iguanas virtually everywhere.

My entertainment included watching Brown Noddys following a Brown Pelican (Southern) who was trying to fish.

brown-pelican-7-10-2016-6308The predominant species of crab is the Sally Lightfoot Crab which delights me by its name almost as much as its appearance. The photograph on the right has a Galapagos Striated Heron in it, an endemic also referred to as the “Lava Heron.”

Magnificent Frigatebirds were so abundant I nearly forgot to pay attention to them later in the trip so I’m glad I managed to get some photographs the first day.


Great Blue Herons were seen on several of the islands.

great-blue-heron-7-10-2016-5201We got on and off the catamaran using a vessel I’m pretty sure was referred to as a “panga” and was designed with seating on the sides so you could throw your gear in the middle of the boat. I seem to have only this picture of the boat from a few days later, but I think the islet pictures must have been taken from it. Below the picture of the panga is a Whimbrel on the shore of an islet.

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Also on the same little islet, the first and farthest views I would have of a Galapagos Mockingbird.

Brown Noddies…

Our first island stop on the afternoon of our arrival to the catamaran was at Santa Cruz Island. The catamaran sailed from island to island, set anchor and we were transported to the island in the panga. A word about our itinerary: the islands we would visit and when were determined by the authority of the Galapagos National Park to insure that not too many people were on any island at any one time. Some islands were off-limits altogether, but there was plenty left to see.


Black-Necked Stilt

The Black-Necked Stilt above and the White-Cheeked Pintails below are not native to the Galapagos but still very nice to see.

The Marine Iguanas were irresistible.

Below, Blue-Footed Boobies in a flight pattern and a view of the beach where we landed to explore.

The Yellow Warbler below is a subspecies found in the Galapagos. This turned out to be a very common bird and easy to photograph.

The two finches below would be seen almost every day, but these were my introductory looks at them.


Small Ground Finch

Darwin’s Finches all evolved with different adaptations to their environment. For whatever reason these finches were named “ground” finches, I must admit that for the most part we did see them on the ground and not in trees or bushes.


Medium Ground Finch

I have dreamed for years of getting decent looks at American Oystercatchers. They’re not rare or native to the Galapagos but it was such a delight to be able to get close enough to this pair.

Off the stern of the catamaran we often had seabirds following us. Elliott’s Storm-Petrels were the most common. The challenge was to sit and try to capture them as the boat swayed.

Back on board the Nemo III every evening for dinner, our chef prepared great food and a different fruit-and-vegetable sculpture. I may have to do a separate post featuring all of these.

dinner-sculpture-7-10-2016-0171One more look at an oystercatcher…

american-oystercatcher-7-10-2016-5424I’ll be back with so very much more, this trip was amazing. Although I can’t imagine going back and doing it all over again, in a way I wish I could. I guess that’s the reason for taking pictures. This time I’m really reliving an entire experience, not “just” the birds.

Right now I have to go clean up the tree mess in the alley. The Horse Chestnut is dying and losing its leaves early. I hope I won’t have to cut it down.


Double Vision…Deal With It!


Wire-Tailed Manakin

I got so excited thinking about how much better I was going to see after cataract surgery, I completely forgot to ask about the length of time and inconveniences of recovery. My timing could have been better, perhaps, like after fall migration, not during. As it stands right now, my current prescription does not work with my right eye, so in between trying to figure out which eye to read with, I have been working on eye-hand coordination with my left eye behind the camera lens and my right index finger on the shutter button. I keep imagining headaches but I’m too lazy to indulge.

Beyond inconveniences like staring too long at name-tags trying to read them and place them with faces on Saturday night at my 50th high school reunion (well, if I had cataract surgery, you probably already deduced I’m not a spring chicken), I’m finding at least my distance vision is improved and I think I can still see with binoculars. After a visit to the eye doctor this morning, I go back for another checkup in two weeks and then I think I can get another right lens for my glasses which will fit with my new vision and then I will quit complaining about all this. “All the better to see you with, my dear.”


Donacobius – If you saw my post from the Colombian Andes last year this bird might look familiar.

Luckily these pictures were all taken the last day and a half in the Ecuadoran Amazon when both eyes were working about the same. This completes my recap of the Amazon trip.


The Boardwalk

On the way to the Wire-Tailed Manakin, accessed by walking a boardwalk trail directly adjacent to our rooms at Sacha Lodge, we stopped by Mariposa Lodge, a butterfly house where butterflies are actually raised and shipped to butterfly enclosures all over the world. Below are a few I was able to photograph.

From the canoe, an Osprey and some Large-Billed Terns.

Also from the canoe, this Hoatzin, looking simply fabulous.



Here are a few pictures from the boat down the Napo River as we were leaving the lodge. I was saddened by the fact that this once pristine wilderness is now, of course, exploited for oil. There aren’t too many places left on earth that have not been touched by drilling or fracking, I’m afraid. I was encouraged to hear the Amazonian Ecuadorans protesting further drilling at Yasuni National Park and I hope they succeed in stopping it. Ecuadorans have also joined the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline and protect the Missouri River. The world is shrinking rapidly and we are all in this mess together.

On our last morning, we saw our last Trogon, the Collared Trogon below on the left, and after trying to find a White-Chinned Jacamar all week we finally did see one, on the right.

Below, an Oriole Blackbird and a Grayish Saltator. And two Blue-Grey Tanagers.


Blue-Grey Tanagers

There were two of the Wire-Tailed Manakins, this is likely just another picture of the same one. They weren’t displaying or dancing but they’re still awfully cute.


I think I just found a new profile picture for Facebook.


I’ll be back as soon as I can, in between eye drops.

Ho-hum, Ennui and Fall Migration

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Chicago lakefront park

You’d think I’d be done with processing all those pictures from the two trips in Ecuador by now,  and be happy to just get on with it, but there always seems to be an excuse presenting itself, like hot weather, work, fall migration, information overload, afternoon naps, imminent cataract surgery…

Although I haven’t done a lot of birding lately, it has been impossible to resist the inevitability of fall migration and the days getting shorter, signaling periodicity going on in the birds’ lives, and even if we’re not paying direct attention to it I suspect we’re all somehow getting ready to hunker down for the winter too.

Two weeks ago I was still seeing the female Scarlet Tanager above, at the Portage, but that was the last time.

These pictures, jumping around, are from a couple visits to the Chicago Portage, a few Chicago Loop migrants present last week, and yesterday morning when I went to Brezina Woods before it got unbearably hot. I think this spot may become a new hang-out place for me as the habitat at the Portage has changed so radically in the last year or two, I’m not sure if the birds will ever come back to it. I paid attention to all flying creatures when I was there this past Sunday and managed to get a couple pictures of butterflies and a dragonfly (above).

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Northern Flicker

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American Robin

The leaves on the trees start to brown a bit and so do the birds. Fall plumages are sometimes challenging.

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

The youngsters are sometimes the only ones left to see. Below, from the Portage, a Song Sparrow on the left and an Indigo Bunting on the right. More views of the two species below them. The Buntings all look like their moms right now.

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This is the time of year to see large flocks of Cedar Waxwings kibbutzing around the treetops and they have been present every time I’ve been out at the Portage and yesterday at Brezina. Juveniles in the smaller photos and an adult in the larger one.

CEWA 09-04-16-0301Down by the Chicago River last week, a Ring-Billed Gull enjoys his perch on one of the last remaining rotting pilings. And the only bird in the Boeing garden nearby was what appears to be a Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher below, after checking Crossley’s pictures as a reference, but empidonax flycatchers are hard to nail down unless they say something and this guy was silent.

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YBFL 09-02-16-0037
At 155 N. Wacker on Friday, there was a Nashville Warbler.

Sunday’s visit to the Portage yielded a Tiger Swallowtail and a Monarch Butterfly. I have seen more Monarchs but not so many. What I haven’t seen hardly at all are the usually numerous Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Mourning Cloaks.

Below, a couple more warblers from my visit to Brezina Woods. The hanging upside-down Redstart, below left, is a challenge to piece together.

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Magnolia Warbler

Two more views of the Red-Breasted Nuthatch. It was a special treat as I got to see two individuals in the remaining black locust trees at the far east end of the Cancer Survivors’ Memorial, the only trees to survive the total decimation of what used to be Daley Bicentennial Plaza and is now Maggie Daley Park.

Last picture of the post below, an adult Cedar Waxwing at the Portage a couple weeks ago.

CEWA 08-14-16-9763I’m looking forward to cataract surgery on my right eye tomorrow morning, because that’s the eye I use to focus the damn camera lens with, so I’m hoping for future sharper images!!

View from the Top: The Metal Towers

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Many-Banded Aracari

On the morning of July 7 at Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadoran Amazon, we went up to the “metal towers” which are three towers strung together with canopy walkways in between. I don’t seem to have a picture of the first tower from the ground before we climbed up, but the view at the top was astounding.

Above, there are two Pied Puffbirds on one of the walkways between the towers, what the walkways look like and the platform on top of one of the towers. Below, I got a closer view of one of the Pied Puffbirds.

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Pied Puffbird

The Toucan below wasn’t as close as the Puffbird but large enough to capture, even if he thought he was hiding behind the limb that obstructs his bill.

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White-Throated Toucan

The Ringed Woodpecker below was one of the first birds I tried to photograph, and although it was quite far away it stayed on that snag, working on a hole in it, for more pictures than I needed. I’m very bad at editing though, especially weeks later…

Below, a Palm Tanager and a Wing-Barred Piprites.

The Lanceolated Monklet was far away too, but too cute to pass up.

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Lanceolated Monklet

The Spangled Cotinga is definitely a canopy bird, always perched up high.

In the afternoon we were back in the canoe. There’s a little video from the canoe below to give you the feeling of it. At some point we saw the Gilded Barbet below but I think it might have been up at the tower. I may have to start taking notes while I’m taking pictures.

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Gilded Barbet

Two more classy woodpeckers to add to my list, the Chestnut and Cream-Colored.

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Chestnut Woodpecker

I do remember the Cream-Colored Woodpeckers below were seen from the canoe.

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Cream-Colored Woodpeckers

Below, a short trip in the canoe. Don’t ask me what’s flying around, whether it’s a bird or a butterfly, before we stopped to see what Oscar, our guide at the front of the canoe, was pointing out.

The Duida Woodcreeper has been split from the Lineated Woodcreeper and I think this is it in the picture below.

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I think this is a Duida Woodcreeper

From the ground, not the canoe, we saw these adorable Spix’s Night Monkeys peering out from their daytime hole.

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Spix’s Night Monkeys

It was a great day for Aracaris and Toucans. The Ivory-Billed Aracari was up at the tower.

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Ivory-Billed Aracari

Likely I’ll be back with one more post from the last day and a half in the Amazon and then it’s on to the Galapagos.