After weather and whatever have kept me inside the past couple weeks, I am looking forward to birding both mornings this weekend and then next Saturday “officially” for the Christmas Bird Count. Then I know what will likely happen: the immediate will foreshadow the past, and I’ll still never get around to what are soon to become “last year’s photographs.” So with this post I hope to catch up with a couple dangling picture portfolios… Starting with the last fall migration bird walk in Columbus Park on October 20th.
The most unusual birds we barely saw were the Rusty Blackbirds above (two out of five of them). It was too hard to tell exactly what they were until I developed my photographs. We were otherwise seeing the usual suspects …lik Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Fox Sparrows.
I did not expect to see a robin sharing space with a Red-Tailed Hawk.
Just barely caught this adult White-Crowned Sparrow and saw a juvenile later.
Two more of the Red-Tailed Hawk.
As I’m hard-pressed for anything colorful around here lately, I’m sharing a few photos from the Missouri Botanical Garden, visited last month when the choir went to St. Louis. Not many birds made themselves available that afternoon but the garden is lovely.
Thanks to all readers, followers and commenters for checking out my blog and tolerating my state of flux. Gotta go now, but winter’s just getting started!
At least today, on Labor Day, I decided to be lazy by not getting up two hours before dawn so I could go birding. After meeting at the destination on Saturday, we canceled the walk due to thunderstorms looming in the wings. Even so, I had stayed back with another participant to get a handle on the layout of the trail setup when suddenly a crash of thunder and lightning striking right in front of us convinced us it was indeed time to leave.
So yesterday I got up and decided I would not go far, but as long as it wasn’t raining or threatening to, I may as well try to see what I could find. I went to Ottawa Trail Woods and encountered some obstacles on the trail (above). It became even more evident that I was the only person to have traversed the river trail in a while as I managed to avoid only one of two spider webs strewn above the footpath. The first sign of life was the deer below.
There were not a lot of birds. Or at least not a lot of species. But this time I got to see an Ovenbird for a few seconds although it was nearly the only warbler I saw.
A dozen Common Grackles showed up in the trees right above my head. So much for dark backlit birds.
Ottawa Trail is usually good for Thrushes and I was not entirely disappointed. At least I got to see this Gray-Cheeked long enough to photograph it.
Early on I saw one Cedar Waxwing, but knew there was no such thing as a solitary Cedar Waxwing and on my way back on the trail I encountered at least sixty in the branches of one tree. Click on the upper righthand photo below if you don’t believe me.
The bottomlands by the river were flooded from all the recent rain and I was able to relocate this Great Blue Heron after it flushed, when I surprised it by my walking the path even though at a considerable distance.
I am still puzzled over the image below but the bug capture is more interesting…
So it was mostly distant unspectacular sightings . A Red-Bellied Woodpecker, an Eastern Kingbird…
Indigo Buntings were nearly unrecognizable. The one on the right was an up-and-coming male hiding from me at the Portage which was where I went next.
The Portage still had a couple hummingbirds, perhaps the same ones I saw on Friday. Plenty of Jewelweed everywhere. A few years ago on a September day I saw what seemed like a hundred Ruby-Throated Hummers in one visit, all over the Jewelweed, but it was not repeated yesterday. If you look closely at the third image of the hummer you an see a little bit of red emerging on his young throat.
By the time I got to the Portage it was closer to midday, the heat was becoming oppressive and I didn’t expect to see many birds. So I appreciate one Gray Catbird after hearing them but never catching even a glance at one Friday.
All my bushwhacking resulted in pollen all over the lens hood…
In front of me on the trail, a baby Snapping Turtle.
There were fewer dragonflies than last week. And I keep running into Eastern Commas that don’t want to pose correctly: or is it a Question Mark???
The Robins all seemed to be at Ottawa Trail yesterday with only a few at the Portage. I imagine it’s the same flock going back and forth.
Monarch Butterflies are still coming through, although they will all be down to Mexico soon. Migrations of the soul…
I came up with a new mantra this weekend, so I guess it’s only appropriate on Labor Day that I share it with you. I have been muttering “I have to stop working” for far longer than I want to recall. But I decided now my mantra should be, “I have to start writing.” I have been thinking about a book for the last several years. It changes every five minutes, but I think it’s finally starting to come together in my head because I found the first sentence yesterday. So it’s time to start writing it. Which may make my contributions to this page even more infrequent, I don’t know, it’s hard to imagine writing anything after working all day at a computer in an office. But by declaring my intentions sometimes I can force myself to get going so as not to risk eternal embarrassment. Thank you.
I got out early last weekend to beat the heat which was nothing compared to what kept me indoors most of this weekend. Last Saturday was a beautiful day. And usually when the weather is good, the birds are out enjoying it too.
Summer is the time for confusing juveniles, and the first bird I saw, below, suggested to me that it was a juvenile Eastern Wood-Pewee…
Not to be confused with the juvenile Eastern Phoebe I saw later, below.
I couldn’t get this Downy Woodpecker kid to turn around and smile for the camera but it was good enough to see his adult feathers coming in…
The House Wren below just has that newbie look about it.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker kids were out and about. I was surprised to see no red at all on the head of the one below on the top right.
Robins always look like something else this time of year, but I am no longer fooled.
I was beginning to wonder if all the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were gone, but then I found a bunch of them hanging out on the bare limbs of a dead tree. They were all juveniles.
These two young Northern Flickers seemed to be practicing pairing up already.
Nothing going on, on the Des Plaines, which was looking low.
Not much in the way of butterflies. A Monarch here and there, and this one Red-Spotted Purple.
But the dragonflies were quite amazing.
I’m going out on a limb with the ID below. I have a fancy book on dragonflies and damselflies but there are way too many choices.
Russet-tipped Clubtail female
I’ll keep trying to figure this one out…
Some kind of Bluet
I’m not confusing Twelve-Spotted Skimmers with Widow Skimmers anymore…
Twelve-Spotted Skimmer female
or with Common Whitetails.
Common Whitetail male
Then there was this beautiful Grasshopper that is likely a Differential, but I am absolutely ignorant about grasshoppers so I’m not guessing.
And if anybody knows the identity of the beautiful wasp below, please chime in. All my reference books have failed me.
Back to the birds. The fruit-eaters were enjoying the mulberry tree. That’s a Cedar Waxwing on the left and an adult American Robin on the right.
This Eastern Kingbird looks mature, but looks can be deceiving.
Some interesting things on the trail for the juvenile Song Sparrow below…
and for a male House Sparrow. I rarely see House Sparrows at the Portage but there were these two.
Juvenile House Sparrow
Saturday mornings tend to be work days. There was some burning of invasive vegetation going on.
Goldfinches are late breeders, so I haven’t seen many in my yard lately, but I did see this pair at the Portage briefly.
Always happy to see a Great Blue blending in.
And it was even pleasant enough for a couple cardinals to make an appearance.
I heard more Indigo Buntings than I saw, but was finally rewarded by the adult male below.
For as much time as the Green Heron spent on this frog I am not sure he or she managed to eat it.
I hope the heatwave ends in time for next weekend. In the meantime I guess I can’t complain about being stuck in an air-conditioned office this coming week.
The weather has turned suddenly hot and it’s hard not to wonder what effect that’s having on spring migration. I sense that to a large degree, no? pun intended, the heat wave has sent those who move farther north packing. I had hoped we would still see a few warblers yesterday on my second time leading a walk at the Portage, but we only heard a couple Yellow Warblers and never saw them. I’ll be back later with a few pictures from yesterday. But this is a more historical post, with a few pictures from the trip two weeks ago to the Portage, and a few more from a walk I took at Ottawa Trail just to see what was going on closer to the Des Plaines River.
Magnolia Warblers move predictably enough to photograph. This time the easiest bird to capture was a female; I caught only glimpses of a male.
One bird that I haven’t seen in quite a while appeared toward the end of our walk two weeks ago. It’s a Yellow-Throated Vireo.
It’s gotten so hot in the last few days it’s hard to believe that last weekend it was still cool enough to warrant layered clothing in the morning.
The Green Herons were both on site two weeks ago, and the turtles were starting to emerge to soak up what little sunlight was occasionally available.
I think this was my last Hermit Thrush of the season.
I likely won’t see another Lincoln’s Sparrow until fall either.
But it looks like I might be seeing a Great Egret from time to time at the Portage this year. We saw it a couple times yesterday.
The pictures below are hardly worth sharing, but this is my last Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.
I used to see shorebirds more frequently but in the last couple years they have been few and far between, so I was happy we had a Spotted Sandpiper on the left, and the Killdeer on the right. I usually hear or see Killdeer flying, but sandpipers have been generally absent.
House Wrens are here to stay for the summer.
A female American Redstart below.
And more shots of a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. Yesterday we heard them constantly but didn’t see one.
White-Tailed Deer at Ottawa Trail
It’s rare to see a Chipmunk sitting still but this one wasn’t self-conscious at all.
Indigo Buntings, male and female.
And the surprise two weeks ago was an Orchard Oriole.
Often more heard than seen, the Northern Cardinal below, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and a Song Sparrow, all at Ottawa Trail.
The heat may keep me indoors more than I’d like. That could mean more blog posts, however. For the moment it’s time to get out in the yard before the heat of the day takes over. Lots of work to do there. Happy Summer to All…
At last. It didn’t last long, but we had a beautiful weekend last week and the trees were excited and blooming and the birds were singing and courting and I was recovering by sitting still and watching it all.
While I sat there I counted five White-Crowned Sparrows in the yard. That’s an all-time high. I am delighted that they considered my yard a stopover for at least week, on their way north to their breeding grounds. In particular, one male was singing loud and clear directly over me and as hard as I tried to get a video, I had too large a lens to capture his image with his song, but I did manage to record him on my cellphone which I was using to do a yard list on ebird.
The neighbors’ dog was out in their yard and she was going crazy over any squirrel that appeared.
The usual cast of characters included a Mourning Dove, an American Robin, and a few American Goldfinches.
There was some serious courting going on with a couple House Finches.
The Redbud is in full bloom.
And it’s hard to find a spot in the yard that doesn’t have some wild violets blooming on it. My plan is to try to eradicate most of it today. Presently we have had cool, rainy weather, so it will be a muddy business to remove, but no more rain is predicted until later tonight, and this may be my last chance to remediate the landscape.
I visited the Portage last Sunday to see how spring migration was unfolding there, and again yesterday to lead the first of my two bird walks donated to the Unity Temple auction. Both outings were full of birds and good times. I will be back with photos. My knee is not too happy about spending so much time negotiating uneven ground, but like physical therapy, in the end, I am regaining mobility. No pain, no gain. To be continued.
Last year two fellows I run into occasionally at the Chicago Portage, Steve and Mike, told me they had seen a Great Horned Owl. I believe it was Mike who showed me his stunning photo of the owl sitting on a stump over the water. But I never saw the owl until two weeks ago making my return trip on the trail that runs along the south side of the stream, when I flushed it and watched it fly to perch in a tree on the other side.
Then last weekend I saw two owls perched on the same branch, looking down at me. The first owl decided to take off when I lifted the camera, but the second owl sat there and stared sleepily at me.
So are they a pair? Most likely. I suspect the first owl is the female as it is larger. Then I wonder if they have a nest somewhere or if they’re shopping for one. Will I see baby owls? It’s more excitement than I can handle at the moment. But I do suspect that the owls’ presence will keep the other raptors I normally expect to see at the Portage away.
The Portage keeps changing. More trees coming down. I was saddened to see one of my two favorite birch trees in smaller pieces. I can’t imagine what was wrong with it.
I have seen Blue-Winged Teal the last two visits as well. I suspect they’re just visiting though and will go elsewhere to breed.
And a Canada Goose seems to have found her nesting spot in tree trunk.
Two weekends ago, it was Golden-Crowned Kinglets…
Last weekend there were a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers, although only one captured by the camera.
I was very happy to see a Tree Swallow last weekend.
Not so many sparrow species. Song and Fox Sparrows, still a few Juncos, and American Tree Sparrows still hanging on through the cold not-quite-spring-weather-yet.
Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow above, Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow below…
A few more captures before I go… White-Breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, preening Mallard, American Goldfinch.
These pictures were all taken on April 8 and April 22. Unfortunately I don’t expect I’ll be getting near the Portage again until May 12 when I’m leading a small group on a bird walk as my donation to the fundraising member auction for Unity Temple. Until then, I will be traveling at a slower pace. Yesterday I had stem cell replacement therapy on my right knee. The procedure itself was not too awful, indeed I told the physician that his description of what he was about to do to me was far worse than the actual operation and I am hopeful recovery goes smoothly. I’m feeling better than last night: I woke up with very little pain, so now it’s more a matter of keeping stable using crutches for a couple more days to keep weight off the joint whenever I can. I’m looking forward to the final portion of the therapy on Tuesday which involves a simple plasma injection. If the weather is nice, which it is predicted to be, I will be spending the time in between blood draw and later injection birding North Pond and the Peggy Notebaert Museum grounds, a local birding hotspot right across the street from the medical building. I couldn’t have picked a better location to have this done!
How long does it take to stop hearing a piece like the Faure Requiem in one’s head? The powerful experience Sunday morning of singing the Requiem twice as a member of the Unity Temple Choir, after the anticipation of the event woke me up periodically the night before, not to mention the weeks of rehearsal: I guess I have been living the Requiem. In spite of the incessant rain we had an ample and appreciative audience. After services the rain stopped for a while, so I took a walk around my neighborhood to see what spring migrants, if any, were trapped by the cold north winds. Internally possessed by the music, birding allowed the music to go on playing in my head at full blast. So far I have gotten through yesterday and this morning with my usual distractions of Spanish and French on the phone and summoning Peter Mayer on my way into the office, but bits and pieces of the Requiem still haunt me. Yesterday with the Kyrie it occurred to me that I caused conversations to be held in D minor.
Here’s a little roundup of two weekends in the yard and environs. I struggle with how long I can endure the cold, and the birds struggle with deciding when their hunger overcomes their inability to ignore my presence.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker inspecting the utility pole
Look Ma, no hands!
More Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers in the conifers around the edge of Freedom Park which is just at the end of my block.
The rain changed to snow overnight. Again. It’s as if there was a repeat sign at the end of last weekend. While I am still thankful for my undisturbed leaf litter cradling the new green shoots that seem to be emerging from the soil nevertheless, the greenery is beginning to look tired and frozen. The snow shots are from last weekend when unfortunately I had to take them through the porch windows.
Hermit Thrush (Freedom Park)
The mourning doves are in full courtship mode, in spite of the chill.
Dark-Eyed Juncos have been a force, and it’s delightful to hear them sing on occasion. I love the subtlety of their individual variations in plumage.
Last Sunday I was surprised to discover an Oregon Dark-Eyed Junco in the yard. There are six subspecies of Dark-Eyed Junco, and the one we get consistently is the Slate-Colored. The easternmost normal occurrence of the Oregon in its winter range is Nebraska and its breeding range is in the northwest, so it’s considered rare in Illinois. There have been a couple other reports of other individuals locally.
The American Goldfinches are coming into their breeding plumage slowly but steadily, some more advanced than others. I’ve been seeing mainly males at the feeders.
One of my backyard robins put on a little fashion show using the new back gate as its catwalk.
Ho hum winter grey clouds…
A little ray of sunshine: a goldfinch enjoying a drink of water.
On the radio this morning I heard that this date last year, we were in the 80’s. Likely I was complaining about that. Oh well. We won’t be getting anywhere near that for a while, I suspect, but with any luck we are done with snow until – dare I say it – November.
I visited the Portage a couple weekends ago to see how many Red-Winged Blackbirds were returning to set up territories: one of the signs that spring is inevitable, which I can mentally check off every year. I hadn’t been over there for a few weeks so it was time to see how things were starting to change.
There was only a tiny bit of green happening. For the most part the browns and greys were still in charge although the angle of the light is changing.
Predictably there were a lot of Canada Geese.
Then there were the territorial disputes…and flyovers.
The Portage surprises me when I least expect it to. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an Eastern Bluebird there before but there was one two weeks ago.
More than one Killdeer suggests a potential breeding pair…?
Sparrow-wise, one of several American Tree Sparrows likely on their way out, and a Savannah Sparrow on its way in…although I don’t think the Portage has opened up enough to attract breeding Savannah Sparrows.
Northern Cardinals are here all year long but it’s always nice to see them. One Dark-Eyed Junco tried to steal the scene in the upper right-hand picture below.
A few more of Red-Winged males and Canada Geese, back on their home turf to start new families. There is something reassuring about certain things that don’t change, especially lately.
And I could not resist a picture of our most ubiquitous resident, American Robin.
I haven’t decided yet where to go tomorrow but it looks like the weather will be warm and sunny so we’ll see what happens. We’ve had cold and windy weather all week so it should be a nice break for all of us. My mother always used to call March the “Adolescent Month.” I think there’s still a little snow in the forecast next week although it likely won’t be much… Fingers crossed. 🙂
As I sat here last night trying to make sense of this random conglomeration of images before I went to bed, I wondered if we would indeed finally get some rain. It seems even our impending drought cannot ignore the possible impact of Nate, the current tropical storm. We have had some constant drizzly rain and it looks like we should eventually get some cloudbursts. But appearances on the radar can be deceiving. I will keep my hopes up.Continuing with last month’s visits to nearby Cook County Forest Preserves, young birds like the Cedar Waxwing and Red-Winged Blackbird above were getting ready to leave. It’s become evident to me over the past few years that European Starlings like the one below are not necessarily winter residents either. But the young Mourning Dove blending in with the dead stump below the it will likely stay.Hidden in the leaves about waist-length from the ground at Ottawa Trail was the Ovenbird below.And there just seemed to be too many ways to capture Northern Flickers. They have likely pretty much disappeared by now too. For a last look you can click on the pictures below for larger images.
American Robins don’t disappear completely in the winter but they will be traveling in flocks soon searching for any fruit left on trees.
Another hardy winter resident is the Black-Capped Chickadee.A few more Red-Winged Blackbirds.
Ottawa Trail’s landmark tree
Last year following my cataract surgery I got all turned around and could not find the trail that runs along the Des Plaines River at Ottawa Trail, but now I am finding it easily, and one reason why is because I have always located the landmark tree above.I am grateful for Northern Cardinals. They will be here all winter to brighten up the landscape.
I’ll be back soon with the last warblers… Still trying to find that work/bird-and-choir-life balance. I will bow deeply at the first thunder clap.
There was no time for birding last weekend. So I decided to visit the Chicago Portage two days in a row this weekend. It’s not a difficult decision to make this time of year. I took my chances that the rain Saturday night might cause a little warbler fallout and I was not disappointed. Not many species but it was still nice to see some activity.
Apart from birds, I saw more Monarch Butterflies the last two days than I have all summer, when I have occasionally seen only one or two. Yesterday I am sure I saw at least 15, which is still nothing compared to previous years.
The other late summer pleasure is spider webs like the huge one on the left below. On the right, the flowers are still laden with the last night’s raindrops.
Cedar Waxwings were everywhere both days, but in particular yesterday. I estimated there could have been a hundred but I reported a conservative 76.
The two robins below seemed to be arguing over the lower bird’s perch.
On the Des Plaines River, one Great Blue Heron and one Great Egret were still present on Saturday, but Sunday morning they were gone.
Indigo Buntings were still a presence but getting a bit harder to find. They are likely getting ready to leave.
Also nearly absent are Red-Winged Blackbirds.
For excitement, on Saturday I focused on the Red-Tailed Hawk below when it landed in a tree across the water, and then got lucky enough to capture its takeoff when it left.
So where are the warbler pictures? I didn’t get them all, but below are a few. The Orange-Crowned was there Saturday. Apparently it is early because I got the “rare” warning from ebird yesterday when I tried to add it before developing my pictures. I hope the image below will be enough proof.
I heard several Warbling Vireos and Saturday I managed to photograph one.
The Carolina Wren below was a surprise. This appears to be a youngster. I fussed over the image for a while but decided it has to be a Carolina, even if the eyebrow isn’t finished-looking, the bill, the reddish color and the upturned tail indicate Carolina Wren. I also heard one sing, likely it was this one trying out its pipes.
Below is how the Portage looked yesterday.
Abundance below, of Pokeweed berries and Jewelweed blooms. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any hummingbirds enjoying the Jewelweed.