Back to Mid-April

In my typical fashion, I have been trying to write this post for the last week and a half. So while we are all wondering how to get through the holidays this year-like-no-other, I feel a sense of loss too, even though I likely would not have had any plans to go anywhere myself. But there’s also a sense of opportunity in any day I really don’t have to think about work.

Even though it was a cool, late spring and in the middle of the pandemic, there’s something oddly comforting these days about looking back.The Portage looks about like this now – no leaves on the trees, everything muted in browns and grays – but the birds are different in appearance, and most of these species have left for the winter. I took way too many photographs on this day, which might explain why it’s taken me seven months to process them. I won’t be doing a lot of explanation…that might take me another seven months. just hope you enjoy the images.

It will be a while before male American Goldfinches look like the one below.

Out over the Des Plaines River that day, there were three Belted Kingfishers flying around. I didn’t do a very good job of capturing them, they were quite far away. But at least one flew close enough to be recognizable.

A returning Song Sparrow
A Blue Jay, blending in with the sky and the barren tree
Waiting to come back to life.

I keep trying to get a decent photograph of the golden shafts on a Flicker and usually fail, but this time I got close.

There were a couple Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with the Mallards.

One Ring-Billed Gull flew over low enough to be identifiable.

Robins started coming back to their territories. The one in the second photograph is barely discernible from the tree it’s in.

Of course nothing says spring like the return of Red-Winged Blackbirds.

It was early enough in the morning to encounter a couple deer.

Please forgive me, I took way too many pictures of Golden-Crowned Kinglets. They are all gone now, but it was a joy to see them return in April.

Downy Woodpecker – the Portage’s most numerous resident woodpecker

Here’s a thrush I don’t see often – a Veery.

I took a few too many pictures of this Ruby-crowned Kinglet too, but at least I did get somewhat of a shot at the ruby crown.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker…

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

I am always happy to see a White-Breasted Nuthatch, even though they are with us all year long. I never tire of them.

The light was nice on this Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Brown-headed Cowbirds are…what they are.

The pair of Eastern Bluebirds this year were such a welcome sight. Although I saw them for several weeks, I don’t think they wound up staying to breed. I can only hope they give the Portage a second chance next year.

The first warbler to show up in the spring, and the last to leave in the fall… the trusty Myrtle, or as long as it’s still lumped with Audubon’s (last time I checked), it’s a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

I will be back with more from last spring (!) and some more current observations. I hope you are safe and well, wherever you are. And I hope you continue to find moments of peace and solace. There is still a lot to be thankful for.

Mid-July

I haven’t been able to go forward too far so I am going backward in time. These photographs are from one lovely day in the middle of July at the Portage. A highlight was a pair of Orchard Orioles. The male is at the top of this post.

Even though the Green Herons did not have enough water to make a go of it this summer, they still came to visit.

Pollinators were busy.

Below are some more images of the male Orchard Oriole, and one of the female in the same frame as a Red-Winged Blackbird female. They were foraging in the vegetation that sprung up in the absence of water this summer.

A female Red-Winged Blackbird is showing off below.

Male Northern Cardinals aren’t typically willing subjects, so it was a rare treat to capture this one.

Robins were present in all stages of plumage.

Not sure but this might have been my last opportunity to photograph and record a singing male Indigo Bunting.

It was a good year all around for seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees. I usually always hear them but rarely see them. Something about the change in habitat, I suspect.

The Goldfinches spent a lot of time foraging in the duck weed. I didn’t realize that the Portage has a storyboard describing duck weed as the smallest flowering plant until I led a bird walk recently.

Not a very good photograph, but I this was the last time I saw a Great-crested Flycatcher.

The Gray Catbird below epitomizes the attitude of these loquacious birds.

The days are dramatically shorter and the heat has been on in the house for over a week. But now it looks like we are due for a spell of pleasant temperatures before the cold takes over. I am healing from my fall and always seem to feel better in the evenings. Thanks for stopping by!

Summer at the Portage

A couple lazy uneventful Saturdays at the Portage the first two weekends yielded a few photographs and a little singing to go along with it.

Below is the last time I saw an Eastern Bluebird. I barely saw it – it was in the darkness of the trees as I first walked in and I had no idea what it was until I adjusted the exposure and cropped the photograph. I will likely never know if the two bluebirds stayed and raised a family. But it was still nice to realize maybe they were still around two weeks ago.

Then I got lucky and saw a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, just like the one that visits my feeders.

This was the last hurrah for Indigo Buntings too. They are still present but not as visible. This one had a distinctive song.

Here’s a little recording of this Indigo Bunting’s song

Below is a female Indigo Bunting with an insect prize.

Two photographer acquaintances I run into frequently, Steve and Mike, were taking photographs of the juvenile Wood Duck below. Another mystery. I had seen a couple Wood Ducks early in the season but I have no idea whether they nested. I can’t imagine with the water levels so low what they would have done with their ducklings once they fledged (if you can call falling out of a tree nest onto the ground fledging).

There are still Robins around although not so many. Most I am seeing are juveniles like the ones below.

Goldfinches are abundant now. They never really disappeared but because their breeding season starts later, they tend to re-emerge later.

A few miscellaneous photos from the summertime abundance. Blue Vervain and Common Chicory are the flowers.I cannot resist photographing the shelf fungus. The dragonfly is a female Common Whitetail, there’s a Paper Wasp, and the butterflies are Painted Lady and Delaware Skipper all the way down at the bottom of this group. The Skipper is a tiny butterfly.

I took note of this House Sparrow because I rarely see them here.
A reminder that August is spider web time.

The management of the water levels at this place continues to frustrate me. I suspect it has more to do with the fact that it is a low-lying area close to the Des Plaines River, and all this has less to do with beavers than predictions of future flooding due to climate change. It’s hard not to feel as if the wild places, such as they are, that we have left will soon be managed out of existence. But I will continue to visit and try to look for silver linings to these clouds.

A desolate-looking segment on a hot, dry day.

A few birds in flight, above – a Robin at the top and a Red-Winged Blackbird at the bottom right.

I was surprised to see this Eastern Kingbird with its insect prey, as I have only seen a pair of Kingbirds once or twice all season. This seems to indicate they stayed.
A singular Cedar Waxwing
This is how the statue appeared on the 8th of August. I have not heard of any plans to remove it, as seems to be prevalent in the current environment. So much about the place has changed already, though, nothing would surprise me.

A few more photos from those two Saturdays, the 1st and the 8th. The birds were busy but not so visible.

It’s hard to believe that we are now looking toward the end of August and fall migration has already begun for some species. Sometimes this year seems interminably long, but the weeks are catching up with me. I will try to be back soon with more summer observations before the next phase.

Weekends at the Portage

I spent the mornings of July 4th and Sunday, June 28th, at the Chicago Portage, mainly to see how the birds that spend their breeding season there are doing. Fledglings are starting to show themselves. Sometimes they look so different from the adults it takes a moment or two to figure out exactly who they are.

American Goldfinch

A Green Heron occasionally stops by to see what’s happening, perhaps to see if the water it used to fish in has returned. I suspect the herons miss the water even more than I do. A frequent dog-walker I have exchanged conversation with for years told me that he heard the amount of water flowing into the Portage was being controlled to discourage beavers. That’s extremely disappointing to me, if true. I had read somewhere that efforts were being made to restore the habitat to its original state but I really don’t know how that could happen. I will keep trying to find out the true story. In the meantime the habitat change attracts other species that were absent before, but I miss the old “regulars.”

All that vegetation in the middle used to be water…

Something else: just as I was beginning to explore farther afield, the fence gate has been closed and locked. I am not surprised, with all the extra foot and bicycle traffic – I am sure it is a matter of liability between the water reclamation district and the railroad. Of course I would be able to crawl through the opening on the righthand side of the gate but I don’t think it’s worth doing now. It might be hard to resist during fall migration though. I guess it will depend on how many people are still using the trails.

So the stars of both visits were the male Indigo Buntings. There were plenty of them everywhere and quite a few volunteered for photographs. Since I always take too many pictures and have a hard time deciding which ones to use I have just piled them up here.

There seems to be a good number of Northern Flickers this year.

I am always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly. But sadly I haven’t seen more than two at a time.

Starting to see more dragonflies too.

European Starlings always look more interesting to me in their juvenile plumage.

I never know when I’m going to run into a deer.