Summertime at the Portage

I haven’t been out birding since Sunday morning and I likely will not get to do so until the middle of next week, but that’s okay, I am having a wonderful visit with Linda G., my closest friend since we met in junior high. Birds are occupied with their most important breeding activities which tend to make them hard to see anyway: we might get around to a walk but don’t count on it. But that’s okay, I have a backlog of photos from outings last week and before. These photographs are from last Thursday, June 23.

The forecast was for partly sunny, but this was plenty of sun for me. The temperature was not too hot so I think the birds were enjoying it too.

Baltimore Orioles were in the mulberries. The photograph in the upper left corner of the panel below is of a female.

I was following a bird later that was down low in the grasses and it turned out to be a female Orchard Oriole. You can see how she appears “greenish” compared to the female Baltimore Oriole in the previous panel. I am so happy to know Orchard Orioles are breeding at the Portage.

Indigo Buntings are everywhere – at least the males are still easy to spot. I haven’t seen a female that I could capture lately, but as the summer continues I should start seeing them and the juveniles. I have been seeing Tadziu on both sides of the bridge lately. Here he is perched in his original spot.

And now he also likes the very tippy-top of a tree on the other side. I confess I recorded him three times. He basically sang the same song in all three recordings but I just couldn’t help myself. I can recognize his song from a distance as I approach his territory.

So below are Tadziu’s greatest hits.

The Indigo Bunting below is an entirely different individual. He wasn’t singing for me so I couldn’t record him to compare, but he’s beautiful. I love the way the light plays with these guys.

There isn’t a lot of Squirrel-Tail Grass and I suspect it doesn’t last very long but it was looking good that day.

Below is some variety of sedge I have never seen before and cannot identify, so I welcome any suggestions. At least I think it’s a sedge.

When I got across the south bridge as I walked in, I noticed workers applying herbicides. I had seen what I think was a Forest Preserves truck in the parking lot. I asked one young woman if they were going to tackle the poison hemlock, and she said she didn’t know about that yet, but that they were discouraging Mugwort, which is in the photo below right. Apparently it’s considered an herbal remedy by some but it’s also very invasive, native to Europe and Asia. I think the strategy is to prevent it from flowering and producing seeds, which apparently can be as many as 200 seeds per plant, but it also has a rhizome root system, so stopping seed propagation is only one step in control. I didn’t dare ask what herbicide they were using, but if I see them working again I will get over my prejudices temporarily and try to be a better reporter.

I encountered a young rabbit that day.

I haven’t been able to identify this yellow flower yet but it seems to be a new one at the Portage. I will pay closer attention to the foliage on my next visit and see if I can figure out what it is. It’s so easy to be lazy…

This Chipmunk was nibbling on something.

Downy Woodpeckers are becoming a little bit more visible lately although they are still pretty quiet.

I haven’t seen a lot of European Starlings but these two youngsters were present.

House Wrens are ubiquitous but not always easy to see. I caught this one in a rare moment of silence.

Sometimes I get lucky with swallows, and this day had a few Barn Swallows swooping low over the duckweed.

American Goldfinches are also fond of the duckweed-covered stream and I think it’s a perfect background for this female.

Red-winged Blackbirds are harder to see, but this one was sitting so still I had to commemorate the occasion.

I will try to get back sooner than later but Linda will be staying with me several more days and we have a lot of catching up to do.

Two Strolls in Riverside

I was ready to do another 3-slice version of Portage visits but decided to break up the monotony with my last two Riverside walks. on March 11 and 16, respectively. The visit on March 11 was after a light snowfall. which may have been our last snow. We have warmed up off and on since then and right now we are getting some rain for a couple days so I hope to write a couple posts while I’m stuck indoors.

The snow fallen on the cobblestone path by the Hofmann Tower
Des Plaines River

This was the last time I saw waterfowl that weren’t Mallards or Canada Geese. There was a pair of Common Mergansers.

And a Common Goldeneye. These were the birds I had been seeing all along.

I did manage to find a couple Dark-eyed Juncos to sit still long enough. The one in the second photo had a little snow on him.

Here’s how the foot bridge looked with freshly fallen snow.

To my delight, when I looked down river, I saw some Red-breasted Mergansers.

There are seven of them in the photograph below. There might have been another underwater.

I did manage to get a closer look at a pair while I was on the other side of the foot bridge, or Riverside Lawn. First I saw the male, then the female popped up right next to him and then he dove, leaving her with a spash.

The last snowy scenes…

A pair of Downy Woodpeckers were hanging out together.

On March 16, the first bird I saw was this Cooper’s Hawk in Riverside Lawn but I was just about to cross Joliet Avenue from the Lyons parking lot.

Here’s how the river looked from the Lyons side.

It was cloudy again, which made for a pretty indistinguishable photograph of these six European Starlings.

The Des Plaines River from the other side of the Joliet Avenue bridge, and the paved walk.

The cloudy sky was variable.

I managed to capture a Mallard in flight and this lovely couple.

Also flying around were four Red-winged Blackbirds. They kept chasing around across the river and back again.

There was one lonesome Canada Goose at the bend in the river.

I’ve been seeing White-breasted Nuthatches lately instead of just hearing them.

There were quite a few Dark-eyed Juncos that day which probably made this one more relaxed.

I even managed to capture a female Northern Cardinal before she disappears into nesting season.

The highlight of my walk was more audible than visual. What I am sure is the same Song Sparrow who charmed me last time with two different songs this time sang four – or five, depending on whether you count variations as another song – distinctly different melodies from the two I recorded a week earlier. It was almost as if he was waiting for my return to sing a recital. You can hear all his riffs below. Song No. 2 has a Red-winged Blackbird in the background and Songs 3 and 4 have some White-breasted Nuthatch and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Not to be outdone, a Northern Cardinal chimes in on the fourth recording.

And he had his back to me the entire time, so I couldn’t get his picture. But what a singer!

Song 1 on 3-16-22
Song 2 on 3-16-22
Songs 3 and 4 on 3-16-22
Variations on Song 4/Song 5 on 3-16-22

So I didn’t see a lot of birds but it was an interesting walk. The decaying wood below caught my eye.

There’s more as we slowly but surely slide into spring. We are not done with cold weather but there are no hard frosts in the forecast for the next ten days so I am hoping we are at least done with that.

The Unity Temple Choir is going to sing live in the sanctuary this Sunday for the first time in two years. We had a great rehearsal Wednesday night with Keanon Kyles who is our remarkable operatic bass-baritone friend and he will be singing the solos and leading the hymns for the congregation, which will also be allowed to sing along, albeit masked, for the first time. I will miss going for a walk on what is predicted to be a beautiful sunny day after all this rain, but it will be worth it to sing again for the congregation. More sunshine is coming.

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.

Three Days at the Portage – Day 2

There were still some warblers on May 24, but the Bird of the Day for me was Red-Eyed Vireo. I had been wondering where these birds were, and then they all seemed to show up at once. Usually you hear them singing and don’t see them very well as they move through the trees chasing insects. But this time they were more often seen than heard. In some of these photographs you might actually be able to see the red eye for which they are named.

Red-eyed Vireo

Many of the warblers I saw that day were females. The females tend to migrate later than the males who are in a hurry to set up their territories. Spring migration this year seemed strange for many reasons – the pandemic affecting where you could go to find birds, the weather which is always a factor, and I guess the knowledge in the back of your mind that birds are in decline and you wonder just how many you’re going to see anyway.

Below is a Yellow Warbler who likely is on territory for the summer. I recorded him singing, and you can hear him three times in the little clip below his picture. Some people find the mnemonic “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet” helpful in distinguishing this song from others they might be hearing.

Yellow Warbler

I feel fortunate to have seen a Canada Warbler more than once this spring. Unfortunately they prefer somewhat shady spots which I guess they blend into better than bright sunlight. I love the steel-gray blue color of their backs. I would support a Pantone color called Canada Warbler Blue.

Northern Cardinals are all around but not seen too often. This one was far away but distinct.

A Blue Jay on the fly.

Baltimore Orioles are getting harder to see now that they are busy rearing families.

Indigo Buntings are busy too but there are so many of them, they are easier to see.

Indigo Bunting (female)

This might have been the last time I saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Actually I’m surprised I got to see more than its tail. I still hear them, but only on occasion, certainly not constantly like a few weeks ago when they first arrived.