Summer Dreams Close to Home

MALL 6-25-17-0598If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.

Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.

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Warbling Vireo

Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).

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Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.

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Juvenile Baltimore Oriole

Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …

After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.

One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.

Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.

And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.

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Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.

I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.

One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.

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Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.

The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.

All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.

Swamp Milkweed 6-24-17-0438On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.

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Unidentified Invasive Plant

A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.

And one more of the Carolina Wrens.

CAWR 6-24-17-0630McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!

Lazy Daze of Spring

Yesterday was my first day “off” in a long time. “Off” means I have adequate time for household chores, maybe even the freedom to choose which ones I want to accomplish. But it was also a nice day to be outside, so there was the frustrating choice between sleeping in and staying at home or getting up early and going birding somewhere. I chose the first option, woke up late enough, fed the birds and then spent two hours digging up buckhorn plantain from what used to be grass on the parkway. Because it has gone to flower and seed dispersal, cutting it with a push mower is not an option. However, I didn’t last long enough to remove it all. A project for a cool night later this week, maybe, with the days so long now I have two hours or more of light after I get home from work. I don’t have any grass seed to replace it with, so likely I am just helping it spread thicker, but you never know.

Before I engaged in the Battle of Buckhorn Plantain, I went around the backyard looking for bugs and anything else that caught my eye. I was happy to find this Milkweed Beetle living up to its name by hanging out on the swamp milkweed, thus making its identification easy. It’s a longhorn beetle, with its antennae emerging from its eyes.

There weren’t many other photographable insects, unfortunately. The wasp below was in the front garden.

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Black and Yellow Mud Dauber

The weirdest things in my backyard are the plants. Below is a flowering parsnip. I don’t know why I’ve let it go to flower, maybe half out of curiosity and half out of wondering if I will ever want more parsnips. The plants shot up from out of nowhere this spring – I had one last year and did not know what it was, so when it seemed to have multiplied without flowering, I dug it up a couple months ago and that’s when I recognized it was a parsnip, from seeds I planted so long ago I had totally forgotten about it. This could become like the cilantro that keeps reseeding itself in the same small section dedicated to edibles. I think it’s time to dig up a parsnip or two and see if the roots are decent-sized. So much better if I can eat them.

Parsnips 6-18-17-0282Another live-and-let-live plant is below. This year I am not in the mood to fight it. I’ve tried removal before, but now I’m just letting it do its thing, as long as it stays confined to the same spot and doesn’t spread too aggressively. It grows under the partial shade of my Scotch Pine. Apparently Common Yarrow has medicinal properties. This may have to be the answer to everything if there is no more Medicare.

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Common Yarrow

Below on the left is Rudbeckia which is about to start blooming. I love this flower, commonly known as a Black-Eyed Susan. The purple flowers on the right look like some kind of Verbena. I scattered seeds in a spot a few years ago and they manage to quietly come back. It never fails, I always think I will remember what I planted and I almost never do…

The real surprise yesterday was the appearance of two poppies (?) peeking out from a field of Purple Coneflower plants that are just beginning to form seed heads and blossoms. I haven’t had a poppy, California or otherwise, in years. I have no idea what the little one on the right is or where it came from. This is the fun of having a haphazard garden. I hope it isn’t something rare. Please weigh in if you recognize it.

Enough of my confusion with flora in my yard. I managed to visit a few Crows on Thursday afternoon. They were happy to see me. I am hoping for some fledglings in the next few weeks.

AMCR 6-15-17-0237And below, a species of Viburnum that has been growing and producing berries for years – I rarely get to see this many berries before they all disappear, so this is for the record.

Some kind of Viburnum 6-18-17-0313I’ll take you back to Michigan, Panama and the Galapagos in the not-too-distant-I-hope future until or unless I am otherwise distracted. I can hope for more insects, for instance, and it seems to me I have been seeing not just fewer bees but other insects as well. I saw a large dark-colored dragonfly this morning at One South Wacker. I didn’t have my camera out but I don’t think I could get a picture of a moving dragonfly anyway, and I am not very good at identification. I was the only person to stop walking and stand and watch the dragonfly. As delighted as I was to see it, I was also sorry it had to navigate the concrete and steel canyons.

Never imagined I’d be complaining about a lack of insects, but without insects a lot of birds and other creatures will be in very bad shape. I haven’t seen a firefly yet this year. But I can still hope. We are all in this together.

Recycling the Unattached

Some of my original Zebra Finches from years past (the cleaner pot rack alone dates the photo)

I’m almost totally over the rhino-plus virus, well enough to get through what seemed like endless commitments. Now as my mind clears along with my sinuses, I am feeling remiss in keeping up with this commitment, so when I remembered this morning there is always an opportunity to fall back on those “Unattached” photographs that clog up my media library, I decided to select a few at random just for fun. A couple from the Galapagos, not so long ago, which reminds me I still have a couple days left from my trip I never covered…

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Yellow Warbler – Galapagos – July 2016

 

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Magnificent Frigatebird, Galapagos, July 2016

The three below are from a trip to East Africa in 2013.

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Gray-Crowned Cranes, November, 2013, Tanzaniya

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Burchell’s Zebra, November 2013

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Pearl-Spotted Owlet, November 2013

The sunset below probably happened in Belize at Crooked Tree in March of 2014…I’ll be back with more recent endeavors soon.. Thanks for following my meanderings. I hope you enjoyed this little blast from the past.

Kirtland’s Warblers and Friends

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Kirtland’s Warbler

Sorry I haven’t been back to the page sooner but I’ve been down with a nasty cold that doesn’t seem to want to go away.  Yet I could speak above a squeak this morning, so I will have to take that as a sign of improvement. Here is a quick post from part of a visit to Michigan with friends over the Memorial Day Weekend. Specifically, these photographs were taken at the Kirtland’s Warbler Restoration Project in Iosco County. We visited this site on the morning of the 27th. The Kirtland’s breeding population is established well enough now at this location to warrant offering tours by the AuSable Valley Audubon Society. Thanks so much to Sam Burckhardt and the Chicago Ornithological Society for another memorable trip.

To go along with the pictures of a singing Kirtland’s above, here is a brief sample of his song:

Kirtland’s Warblers are a fire-dependent species, breeding only in young Jack Pine forests. They winter in the Bahamas. Their fascinating story was chronicled a few years ago by William Rapai, the author of The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It

The Kirtland's Warbler: The Story of a Bird's Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It by [Rapai, William]

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Nashville Warbler

There were also several Nashville Warblers on territory and although they were a bit elusive I did manage to obtain a few distant photos of this one and a clip of him singing as well. To confuse the issue his song is overlapping the Vesper Sparrow’s, which is also below.

Perhaps the unexpected treat for me was a singing Vesper Sparrow. I have not seen these guys too often. A clip of the Vesper Sparrow’s song is below the pictures which were taken at an unfortunate distance. It can be distinguished from the Nashville’s bubbly song by the three introductory notes all at the same pitch.

Perhaps the birds most seen over the weekend were the huge flocks of non-breeding Canada Geese. This is only a small sampling of one flock passing overhead.

Below, a female Orchard Oriole on the left (you have to click on the picture and still look hard to find her, she is so well-camouflaged) and a male Orchard Oriole on the right.

Brown Thrashers were singing quite a bit too, now I’m sorry  didn’t bother to record one. Below is one very cooperative bird.

Now the challenge is to get through another busy weekend and a lot more photographs (and, I hope, a lot less facial tissue). I am trying to stay optimistic! Please have faith, I shall return, lots to share with you.

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Brown Thrasher

American Redstart Returns

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American Redstart (male, 2nd year or older) at 155 N. Wacker

I heard a bird in my yard the other morning that didn’t sound like any of the regulars. Rather, it reminded me of the American Redstart I heard at 155 N. Wacker about a week ago – all along thinking there was a Common Yellowthroat hiding somewhere, until I realized it was the Redstart singing.

The bird downtown was pretty insistent – I think he was trying to get me to pay attention to him. The next day when I stopped by the little park at 155 N. Wacker, he was gone. So he was probably telling me to get a photo before he left, which I did.

Below, some badly lit shots of another adult male…

American Redstarts have a reputation for being hard to identify by song because they have so many different songs, or different dialects, and I have never really paid that much attention to their singing because they’re usually easy to identify with one flash of the tail.

AMRE 5-18-17-9221But after hearing the bird in my yard, which unfortunately I did not see and because I had to go to work I couldn’t hang out long enough to look for it, I wondered if perhaps Redstarts might pass around a  new “hit song” every spring – sort of like the Humpback Whales that come up with new songs they spread around, or like European Starlings that decide their new “hit” is to imitate a Killdeer, for instance, which was a phenomenon I observed a few years ago.

Below, some first-year males in transition. It’s interesting to see how the black and orange coloring is slowly coming in.

So I guess now I will be paying more attention to this bird’s vocalizations. It’s a reminder that I really should buckle down and learn to recognize more warbler songs anyway since half the time I am struggling to see them and don’t get a view worth noting otherwise.

Below is a female American Redstart. A bit duller in color than the first-year males.

Lots more birds to think about lurk in pictures I have taken through this peripatetic migration season. I will be back with more after the Memorial Day weekend.

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Millennium Magnolia

MAWA 5-17-17-8929Another brief post devoted to one bird, the Magnolia Warbler, which I finally saw well on Thursday morning. I got up at 3:40 AM to catch an early train downtown so I could bird the parks for nearly a couple hours, just to test my perception that there were fewer migrants than previous years.

My perception is correct, I think, based on several factors. The populations of neotropical migrants are already in a downward spiral, and the effects of habitat loss and climate change are tipping the scales. Habitat for stopovers during migration is just as critical as breeding and wintering habitat. Locally, the abrupt changes on the downtown lakefront due to “improvements” have not helped to support migrants. Although I think eventually the pockets of recently planted natural landscaping will offer more respite, it takes years for plants to establish themselves and for the birds to know they can rely on them. Birds tend to return to places that have proven good for them before. When those places disappear, birds have to go somewhere else.

So from the reports I was getting while stuck in the office, the party invitations had already gone out and most of the migrant action was at Montrose Point, also known as the Magic Hedge, which is understandable and predictable, but frustrating when you know you can’t get there to see it.

This bird was among a few other species in the south sculpture garden at Millennium Park, where only a few years ago the planted pines would light up with brightly colored warblers resembling a Christmas tree (I give all credit for that sentiment to my friend David Johnson). For a moment I could almost trick myself into thinking it was happening again.

MAWA 5-18-17-8911Magnolia Warblers, affectionately nicknamed “Maggies,” are usually quite conspicuous and I have always found the males happy to engage with the camera. So I was able to get a few halfway decent shots of this backlit but beautiful guy who was otherwise zooming in and out of the pine needles seeking insects.

I got a break today from the migrant search as the weather has dictated moderation. Our temperatures plummeted yesterday about 35 degrees and the forecast for today is intermittent rain with thunderstorms likely. With any luck I’ll be able to work in the yard a bit in between downpours. But it was nice to “sleep in” for a change on a Saturday, – until my indoor crowd woke me up at 6:00, a full half hour or so after sunrise when they began to greet the day vocally. Someday I have to be awake enough to record the indoor dawn chorus…

Brief Blackburnian Blitz

 

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I readily admit to obsession and distraction. Warblers are here. While there has been no definitive all-at-once-get-it-now-or-never rhythm to this spring’s warbler migration, the fits and starts due to divergent weather patterns have made it all the more challenging to find and photograph these elusive creatures.

This is just a quick post devoted to a couple Blackburnian Warblers seen over the weekend. The one in the oak tree directly above was at Jarvis Bird Sanctuary along the lakefront, and the other in what is likely a cottonwood tree, at the Chicago Portage. More of the Portage bird below, showing off striking black and white plumage. This bird was really distant so I apologize for the quality of the photos.

Many more birds to come, just needed to take a breath before diving back in.

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