The Birds Are Back: 2 – a Weekend Birding the Chicago Portage

Last Saturday morning, I led the first of two Unity Temple Auction bird walks at the Chicago Portage. After the group left, I stayed and found more birds with Bob Smith. I went back again the next day. Both days were cloudy and sometimes even a little drizzly, which did not make for great photographs, but I took too many photos anyway. Spring migration is finally rolling.

Before I go further, I just wanted to share the photograph below that reminds me of a wallpaper pattern. Birds have a natural artistic sense.

Baltimore Oriole Wallpaper

WARNING: This post has too many photographs. You may get dizzy. I certainly did trying to get them all in here. For the sake of expediency I am forsaking any attempt at order. Sort of.

American Redstarts are always a challenge, even in good light.

Below is a first-year male American Redstart.

And then a second year or older male…

There have been a lot of thrushes at the Portage. Below are Swainson’s Thrushes.

I have seen several Gray-cheeked Thrushes too. The unfortunate lack of light didn’t help with the images of the one below.

Northern Waterthrushes, several of which have been present lately, are a different type of New World Warbler. They’re not thrushes. I thought I heard somewhere that they now had their own classification, but they are still in the parulidae family.

Another Northern Waterthrush, down close to the water where they normally forage.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are still around.

Back to the Thrushes. Below are two individual Veerys seen on both days.

Scarlet Tanagers are back. A pair could stay to breed at the Chicago Portage.

Female Scarlet Tanager

Indigo Buntings are back to raise families as well.

My Indigo Bunting friend Tadziu was not available when I led the group through the trails, but he showed up later on Saturday. Below the photos is a video I took of him the Thursday before, which has some of his song.

If you remember my Flicker Mania post from April 15 when Northern Flickers were Everywhere, by contrast, it’s now definitely a challenge to catch a glimpse of one of them.

A busy Northern Flicker

House Wrens fill the air with their chattery songs. Most are staying for the summer.

A House Wren

Tennessee Warblers can also make a lot of noise, but they have been difficult to spot.

A Baltimore Oriole is below, collecting material for her fabulously constructed nest.

This Black-throated Green Warbler almost disappeared into the green.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are not easy to spot these days. They’re way up high and maybe even a little harder to hear with their wheezy song.

They were much easier to see just a couple weeks ago.

Another bird that can be heard everywhere but makes a rare appearance – a Warbling Vireo.

I barely caught a glimpse of a female Common Yellowthroat (in the first two photos below) and then discovered I had by chance barely captured the male as well. This is a warbler of open fields and some park-like settings, and is most often found in shrubby habitat. They stay all summer and you might even forget about them were it not for often hearing the male singing his “witchety wichety” song loudly from some hidden location.

Below is an Eastern Wood-Pewee, a flycatcher that normally stays through the summertime at the Portage. It has a lyrical song for a flycatcher that can often be heard from quite far away. If I hear one singing closer, I will have to see if I can record him.

On Sunday I saw the Great-crested Flycatcher below. Ebird tells me I saw my first one this year on May 9.

Empidonax flycatchers are often tricky to identify, especially without accompanying vocalizations. I believe the bird below is a Least Flycatcher, which is also the Least Difficult to ascertain.

Another Swainson’s Thrush is below. I finally heard one singing yesterday.

It was hard to capture a Nashville Warbler those two days.

I have since seen more Magnolia Warblers and I promise to post some better pictures soon.

We still had a Dark-eyed Junco last weekend, which came up rare for such a late date.

Chestnut-sided Warblers have been around for a week or more. I promise better photos to come of this bird too.

Below is one of two Osprey that flew over late Saturday morning.

The Wilson’s Warbler below was kind enough to offer his most reliable field mark, although in better light, I can wax rhapsodic over Wilson’s Warbler Yellow.

Northern Cardinals might be a little puzzled – or bored – by all the fuss over the influx of other brightly-colored birds. They seem less bothered by the camera’s attention lately.

We saw a Beaver swimming in the stream Saturday morning. We also saw a Muskrat later but I didn’t get a respectable photo.

Swallows were busy. There were Northern Rough-winged Swallows… which I saw, incidentally, this morning before it started to rain.

And there were Barn Swallows.

White-crowned Sparrows were easier to see.

I saw my first Blackpoll Warbler last weekend.

One more Indigo Bunting

I promise not to do this again…it’s too hard to organize. But I just had to let loose with these photos before diving into the rest of them. Spring Migration is like the Holy Grail.

I was praying for rain this morning but the forecast was indecisive, so I went to the Portage. It started to rain in earnest about twenty minutes after I got there, so I switched priorities and did my grocery shopping. I will go back out to swim shortly. My new plants are grateful for the rain. And since I didn’t manage to stay up late last night to finish this post, so am I.

Tomorrow is the second auction bird walk and the forecast couldn’t be better. We should have plenty of sunshine which will make it easier to see the birds.

Flicker Mania

There has been an abundance of Northern Flickers – also known as “Golden-shafted” – just about everywhere I have been lately. I often wind up struggling to get one or two decent photographs of one in flight, but this spring I have been a bit more successful, so I am devoting an entire short post to a beautiful bird.

Sometimes they are not hard to capture doing a woodpecker thing on the side of a tree, but all too often I will unknowingly flush one and see nothing but its white rump trailing into the distance. The bird below gave me the opportunity to capture its departure.

Often enough I see one anting in the grass.

The individual below was just sitting facing me – but I could not resist taking too many photos.

Here’s a view of the back with the red chevron marking on the head, for comparison with other woodpecker species.

Some more of those golden shafts…

So the Northern Flickers have been very busy lately and they will likely be visible off and on through the summer.

I may be back to this page again soon, as it looks like I will have a morning or two off from birding if the forecasts for rain and snow come true. Almost every day I have seen another first-of-year (FOY) species, so it would be good to get caught up now, before the warblers take over.

Back at the Chicago Portage

I walked around the Chicago Portage on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Against a quiet backdrop of very little activity, a few different species emerged.

I stayed home yesterday in part due to a tornado watch and also waiting all day for someone to never show up to check a leaky pipe in the basement. It was windy and off-and-on threatening anyway so it’s probably just as well I stayed in. I have already lined up a rainy day next week to wait again.

I heard Wood Ducks over the past couple weeks and had fleeting glimpses. Then on Thursday I saw one fly in, and when I got to the section of the water where he was headed, there were five.

I can’t ignore some American Robins when they don’t seem to mind me.

Tuesday was not a good day to photograph this Red-winged Blackbird but he was busy vocalizing in the gloom anyway.

The Dark-eyed Juncos are still around and they’re singing now too.

I haven’t heard American Tree Sparrows singing – I guess it’s because they’re quite far away from their breeding grounds. But they are still busy eating and storing up energy for their flight north.

It’s been a while since I have seen a Red-bellied Woodpecker well enough to photograph, although I usually hear one or two.

A distant Cooper’s Hawk was flying toward the water reclamation district property on Thursday.

Downy Woodpeckers are just plain cute

I was attracted to the contrasting plumage with this pair of Canada Geese.

Both days I saw a pair of Blue-winged Teal. I hope they continue.

And on Thursday morning a Belted Kingfisher was perched in the top of the tallest tree by the water. That’s a European Starling below him.

The palette is going to change soon, but I am still attracted to the black-and-white-and-brown birds.

American Tree Sparrow

Thursday as I was coming back along the inside trail, I saw a distant stream of about 200 Sandhill Cranes flying northwest – silently. They would have been easy to miss, except for there being so many of them relatively low in the air.

Bad light, but this time of year any bird could be different, and so few appear they each deserve my attention, like this female Red-winged Blackbird.

European Starling

Below, two Northern Cardinals and a Dark-eyed Junco on the paved part of the trail.

Periodically I have seen a White-throated Sparrow. This one was digging around in a mess of leaf litter until he flew up to a perch and sat a while.

We are supposed to get a break from the cold, gray, windy weather tomorrow morning, just in time for Choir Sunday. I am simply in love with the piece we are singing and looking forward to giving it my best. I remember being excited and moved by the last featured work we sang, but now I can’t remember what it was for the life of me. I have a feeling this music will be in my heart and head for a long time beyond tomorrow morning.

We made it to April.

A Rather Gull-less Frolic

The weather wasn’t too bad for mid-February. The sun was shining and although it’s always colder by the lake, the wind chill wasn’t prohibitive. Indeed, it was quite easy to spend more time outside.

As in the past few previous years, the better the weather for humans, the fewer gulls come to this event. But this year was exceptionally pretty gull-less. With virtually no ice on the lake, there was no reason for the gulls to come to the shore. A lot of bread was thrown into the lake that day, but even the Canada Geese weren’t interested in it.

It was good to see some people I hadn’t seen in a long time, and the talk was interesting and informative. If I had stayed the entire day I might have seen a male Harlequin Duck that was reported being seen first over the Wisconsin border. But I had a busy evening and next day ahead and knew I would need a nap after the long drive back home.

Much of the time I spent outside was looking at some ducks. There were several Common Goldeneye.

It seemed most of the gulls were out on the ice beyond the yacht club. But as birders with scopes examined the flock, nothing unusual was reported to have been seen.

So I took a few token photos of the Herring Gulls that came in for bread early.