Fall Colors

As promised, here are photos from Thursday morning at the Chicago Portage. I am also including photos from October 13th which was a very cloudy day: I just discovered that I must not have reviewed these photos previously as they remained unprocessed until now.

Thursday there was a bit more light, but the number of birds present was nominal. There were Yellow-rumped Warblers, but not too many of them.

There were a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

House Finches seem to be popping up here and there. They are not migrants but I don’t always see them.

I found a couple Orange-crowned Warblers. One very backlit and the other, blending in with the leaves.

Here are a few more Yellow-rumped Warbler photos.

Sparrow migration is here. I spotted a distant first-winter White-crowned Sparrow.

And a couple White-throated Sparrows.

Swamp Sparrows were everywhere.

Back to October 13, when the cloud cover subdued every view.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Song Sparrow

I haven’t seen many Brown Creepers this fall, but was somehow able to capture this one in low light, scaling the bark of a hackberry tree.

The silhouette of a Mourning Dove…

A tree full of Red-winged Blackbirds stark against the grey sky…

Then later, I got some closer views.

I was hoping I had a Winter Wren but upon closer examination this appears to be a House Wren instead. I am pretty sure I have seen a Winter Wren or two but I have been unable to photograph one yet this fall.

White-throated Sparrow

A couple more Yellow-rumped Warblers. There were more of them on the 13th.

Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day, but I spent the morning inside Unity Temple singing in the choir. The bees were in the backyard in the afternoon, enjoying the asters that I trimmed back in June. The trimming back did not keep the asters from expanding over the walk but it kept them shorter which is a plus.

We are warming up for a few days, and then it looks like we will settle into cooler temperatures. We may be done with fall warbler migration, but I haven’t run out of photos yet. I’ll be returning with more.

In Riverside

It’s raining almost all day today and most of tomorrow, so I have no excuse not to finish this blog post I started a week ago.

These photos are from September 6 and September 8. I have returned to Riverside several times since. In my usual fashion, I hope to get around to that eventually.

There have been as many as 9 Great Egrets gathering just south (or is that west?) of the former Hofmann Dam. To illustrate this point I’ve borrowed a photograph from September 13, although I couldn’t get all 9 into the photo at once.

But back to the week before, when I saw only one Bay-breasted Warbler briefly on the 8th.

This Black-and-White Warbler was a little easier to photograph.

I had good looks at a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Tennessee Warblers have been plentiful this migration, although it’s been hard to find one closer.

I feel like I have seen more Veerys this fall. Not a warbler, but a very special thrush.

I had seen a male Black-throated Blue Warbler at the Chicago Portage a day or two earlier, but was unable to get a good photograph. This one in Riverside Lawn made up for it.

I had some trouble figuring out the first bird below, but it seemed to suggest American Redstart to me. Now I have my doubts, though. Could it be an Orange-crowned? If so, it would be rare for the early date. I leave it up to conjecture. This is a never-ending challenge. In any event, the second bird is a first-year male American Redstart with no doubt about it.

Nashville Warblers started showing up and I have seen many more lately.

Magnolia Warblers don’t seem to be as plentiful this year. It’s been challenging capturing the ones I have barely seen. I used to consider them rather extroverted. The bird at the top of the post is a Magnolia Warbler.

So what about all those other birds?

I have seen one Double-crested Cormorant on virtually each occasion.

Mallards have begun to congregate in the river.

There have not been so many Great Blue Herons but I have seen at least two, maybe three on occasion, though they tend to be in solitary locations.

On the 6th, when I saw very few birds, I was treated to a Solitary Sandpiper flying by and then landing where I could get a few images.

Crossing the swinging foot bridge, I stopped to photograph this rather odd-looking spider.

Flocks of blackbirds – mainly Common Grackles and Red-wingeds – have begun to move around here and there.

And Gray-cheeked Thrushes seem to be in abundance this season as well.

Oh I have so many more photos to share with you. I will try to take advantage of the rain making me stay inside and not take anymore! But other inside activities, if you can call them that, beckon. It’s cool enough to catch up on some cooking. There’s the biweekly cleaning of the dining room and the weekly cage cleaning (both are to be accomplished today). Musical routines are always adhered to. I could go on. Perhaps most frustrating is the book I’ve been trying to write finally working out in my head. Finding the time in to get it written is the issue. If not on a rainy day, then when? Let’s see how loud the voices in my head become. To be continued.

A Warbler Here and There

Welcome to Fall Migration Warbler Identification Meditation. (I was inspired after reading an article about meditation going mainstream.) Warblers are starting to arrive, and I had more species in my photos than I realized while taking them. Since many of the warblers look quite different from their spring plumages, and are often hard to distinguish from others, it necessitates a review of wing bars, undertails, bill shape, and if you ask me, even a facial expression can sometimes play a role.

I had been seeing a warbler here and there over the last week or so and was planning to gather them all together in one post here, but my visit to the Chicago Portage on Tuesday morning – before the Heat Wave – proved too busy to ignore, so I am just going to consolidate what I saw on Tuesday and come back later with the rest.

My visit didn’t start out with warblers, of course. Except for a few American Robins, the birds were at quite a distance. This young Robin was enjoying some ripe pokeberries.

There were birds perched from time to time in the bare trees that border the water, and for the most part, I was just taking photos to identify them later. There were some interactions going on that I might not have bothered to notice.

An Eastern Kingbird is at the top, a Baltimore Oriole below

All I can figure is the Baltimore Oriole started moving toward the top of the tree where the Eastern Kingbird was perched and there was a bit of an upset. My last photo was of the Eastern Kingbird either going after prey or giving up on the challenge to its position.

Then I was following perhaps the same Eastern Kingbird with what looked like a cicada. It wasn’t having an easy time of it.

After all that, a quiet moment for the Eastern Kingbird.

Young and older Northern Flickers popped up here and there.

It was probably the first time I did not hear a Song Sparrow, but I did see this young bird at a considerable distance.

Quiet bird moments gave me opportunities to focus the lens on other things. I really like the way the foxtail grass looks with the sun shining through it. Then for butterflies, there was a Hobomok Skipper, a Monarch, and a Pearl Crescent.

A spider web off the trail was more challenging.

A view of the new trail from the south end of it

And now for the warblers. Just as I was pretty much on my way out, so to speak, but before I reached Tadziu’s bridge (by the way, I saw and head a couple adult male Indigo Buntings, but I do think Tadziu has left for his winter home), I noticed activity in the expanse of trees between the trail and the train tracks. At first, there were several Red-eyed Vireos.

I barely caught a clear glimpse of a Magnolia Warbler.

I was not aware until I developed my photos that one of the first birds I was following was actually a Chestnut-sided Warbler. There’s not much chestnut siding in this bird, but the greenish-yellow coloring on the crown and back, the eye-ring, and yes, its posture/expression tipped me off.

The Black-and-White Warbler was easy to see, however briefly, but difficult to capture. I managed one clear photo.

I had the feeling I was seeing more than one Bay-breasted Warbler.

This is likely a different individual below.

And the bird below is the same individual as the one at the top of the post.

With the mixed flock was a young-looking Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I at first assumed the bird below was another Bay-breasted but changed my mind when I saw the photo of its back. I started going down the Blackpoll Warbler trail. It’s also very hard to see some vague orange coloring on the foot in these photos. But there is faint streaking on the breast in the first photo.

A couple Baltimore Orioles were in the mix as well, if a bit farther away.

The Baltimore Oriole below was intrigued by some dead leaves.

Here’s one of those not-in-focus photos I got of the Black-and-White as it escaped scrutiny.

Well, our 100 degrees Fahrenheit has given me the opportunity to sit inside and finish this post. We are due for cooler temperatures tomorrow. I will likely visit Riverside in the morning to see what migrants are appearing there, and then drive to my temporary swimming location. I’m looking forward to cooler temperatures on the weekend and into next week when I will be able to resume a more regular routine again. But I am already starting to make room for fall activities. Wednesday evening choir rehearsals have returned. The kids are back in school down the block. The Saturday morning bird walks begin on September 2nd at Columbus Park.

And somehow in spite of my efforts at population control inside the house, increasingly louder begging noises have me expecting to see a new Zebra Finch fledgling or two shortly. Somebody is getting better at building predator (me)-proof nests.

To be continued. 🙂

One Day in May

I thought I would be combining photos from a couple days in Riverside, but I took more than enough on May 17. It was perhaps my best spring migration day from the standpoint of seeing some birds I had not seen yet this spring and receiving great cooperation from them. My list totaled 52 species that day, and I spent a little over three hours to see them. Two days earlier on the 15th, I had 57 species – we will have to get caught up with those birds later.

When I crossed the Joliet Avenue bridge, I saw the Mallard hen below with her four ducklings. Later I saw them swimming across the river.

As I started to walk the paved path that runs along the Des Plaines River, I found birds here and there tucked into the trees.

Least Flycatcher
Believe it or not – a Yellow-rumped Warbler
A more recognizable Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Robin

I took the photo of the fisherman below to show how low the river was. Unfortunately, nearly 2 weeks later, it is even lower now. We are experiencing “moderate drought” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

I could not resist photographing these Tree Swallows taking a break. I shot the two twice to focus on one and then the other.

I crossed the footbridge and walked into Riverside Lawn. There I encountered an American Redstart singing enthusiastically. The video clip below has a small portion of his song.

For a Redstart, he was relatively easy to capture.

It’s annoying to try and figure out flycatchers that don’t vocalize, but for some reason I decided this one was an Alder Flycatcher.

I never tire of Magnolia Warblers.

This was the first time I saw Cedar Waxwings this spring.

Palm Warblers were everywhere for weeks. Now they are being seen here and there but the sightings are rare. This one didn’t want to be seen at all.

I don’t always find an Indigo Bunting here, so this was a nice encounter.

Gray Catbirds are everywhere.

Scarlet Tanagers were around for maybe a couple weeks. The yellow on the one below is interesting.

Sooner or later a female Red-winged Blackbird strikes an interesting pose.

Common Yellowthroats are frequently heard but rarely seen in areas with more trees, so I was very happy to get a chance to photograph this one.

Another warbler that’s not always easy to see, in part because it tends to stay close to the ground, is the Ovenbird.

Yet another Scarlet Tanager…

And another male American Redstart…

No matter how long I photographed the flycatcher below, it would not turn sideways so I could see its wing bars. I think it’s an Alder Flycatcher.

The thrushes were abundant and lovely to see this spring.


Then I got lucky enough to see a less-often-seen warbler. This is a male Black-throated Blue Warbler. If I had gotten no other photograph but the first one below, I would still be able to tell what it was from the distinguishing white check mark on the wing. That identifier helps a lot when seeing the female of this species.

It’s easy to take Yellow-rumped Warblers for granted, but I thought this one took an interesting pose.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Nashville Warblers made themselves available only in part all season.

I caught up with the Ovenbird again later and it posed for me.

More Magnolia Warblers…

Female Scarlet Tanagers are beautiful too. The light on the bird in the first photograph makes it look almost like another species.

The guys are just fabulous. One of those days in Riverside I saw a male Scarlet Tanager appear in a tree right above a couple walking toward me with their dog and I pointed to the tanager. They looked up and saw it. I got a thumbs-up.

Let’s not forget about Mourning Doves. It was a Mourning Dove’s song that got me started with the whole birds-sing-in-key-with-music stuff.

Here’s one more of the Magnolia Warbler that’s at the top of the post.

This appears to be a lovely female Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

And in better light, it was easier to see this Palm Warbler.

The Ring-billed Gull below was putting on a little show on the wall by the Hofmann Dam.

And now for a little vireo review. Red-eyed Vireos are heard more often than seen, with their distinctive question-sounding song. But every once in a while I get to photograph an individual.

And then on occasion I get to see a Warbling Vireo well.

It has taken me days to get through this. I hope it won’t take you that long!

I have been out every day finding more birds, which would be enough to keep me occupied. But now we suddenly have summer weather – the heat of it, anyway – with no rain, and I have new plants in the ground and more coming shortly, so I have added watering the garden in the evening to the daily routine. I bought a new hose that just makes it either to the back or the front of my lot. Even though we had a drought last summer, it was generally cooler, and I managed to get by without watering at all, but that was because of all the established native plants. I am planting new things while preparing for a native garden walk the third week of July.

June will be “Bustin’ Out All Over.”

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.