Surprises at the Chicago Portage

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Sora behind duckweed-covered Mallards

Last Sunday I got up early enough to pick up Susan at 7:15 and get to the Chicago Portage, only to find the cable barring entry to the parking lot was still strewn across the entrance. I locked the car and we walked around the parking lot area for about 10 minutes before the designated person showed up. It was well past sunrise, which is when the preserves are supposed to be open… But it was still early enough to see a Sora Rail across the duckweed not long after we started down the trail.

I have never seen a Sora at the Portage. Rails are hard enough to see just about anywhere. The usual scenario is that I might hear their beautiful song and take for granted I will never find them. This one was silent, but virtually out in the open. Susan looked across the water with her binoculars and said, “Is that a Sora?” and then I spent the next several minutes trying to get a decent picture of it.

The other surprise Sunday was a Marsh Wren, also a first for me, for the Portage. But though we saw it well for a half second, it was not interested in seeing us again so I got no photographs.

I do have one more surprise, though, from the previous weekend. I saw a juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker, another species I have never seen at the Portage and only infrequently anywhere, and I managed to get the pictures below. I can’t help but wonder if the change in habitat, the opening up, so to speak, of more marshy areas, will attract this species more often.

Birds became visible from their foraging behavior. The tiny Golden-Crowned Kinglet below was interested in something contained in the bark of a tree down the trail from us.

I caught the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet below in a more contemplative phase.

Not to be outdone by other species adopting its favorite foraging spots, here is one of two Brown Creepers we saw.

BRCR10-8-2017-9579Closer to the end of our walk the intense sunlight started playing tricks with color and it wasn’t until I got home and processed the next few photos that I realized what we had.

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White-Throated Sparrow

The Yellow-Rumped Warbler below looked so blue in the light, I didn’t recognize it while taking the pictures.

The Black-Capped Chickadee below would not show its face but I was intrigued by its foraging calisthenics anyway.

And we managed to find one more Magnolia Warbler to add to the list.

Downy Woodpeckers are common all year round at the Portage but not always available for picture-taking. But this one was so busy with whatever it was working on, she put on a little show.

When we checked the Des Plaines River, the Belted Kingfisher was still hanging out.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers were the most numerous species on our visit, but it was still tempting to take the pictures below. At least you can see the yellow rump…

Shadowy images of a White-Breasted Nuthatch on the left and a Cedar Waxwing on the right. We didn’t have a huge flock of waxwings but there will still a dozen or so.

We saw some other thrushes but this was the only one I managed to capture. I have never seen more than one Gray-Cheeked Thrush at a time which makes me think maybe they tend to be solitary.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Others have been to the Portage since our visit and a couple rarities, at least for the time of year, have been reported. I want to go back soon but this weekend is already booked with people activities, unless the forecast for rain and thunderstorms changes Saturday morning.

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Post in search of a title

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A last Monarch…

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.CEWA Portage 09-09-17-8040RWBL Ottawa Trail Portage 09-17-17-8112Continuing 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.EUST Portage 09-09-17-7747MODO Portage 09-09-17-7734Hidden in the leaves about waist-length from the ground at Ottawa Trail was the Ovenbird below.OVEN Ottawa Trail 09-09-17-8061And 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.BCCH McGinnis 09-17-17-8303A few more Red-Winged Blackbirds.RWBL Portage 09-09-17-7794

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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.NOCA Ottawa Trail Portage 09-17-17-8074I 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.

 

 

Reflections on a Post-Groundhog Day

noca-millennium-2-2-17-7364This really has nothing to do with Groundhog Day except that, according to the official Groundhog, we are in for 6 more weeks of winter. I can tell you that as annoying as that prospect might be, it’s nothing compared to dreading the “what next?” incredulity of news coming from the nation’s capitol.

The Northern Cardinals have been hanging out at the northwest corner of Millennium Park by the entrance to the Boeing Gallery.

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This is not going to be a political rant, indeed, I’m trying to escape our new reality for a few moments of sanity, as long as birds are still around to help. Sometimes I have to wait a while before the birds show up, but eventually they do. All these photos are from the last week or so, Millennium and Maggie Daley parks in downtown Chicago.

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Both colorations of White-Throated Sparrow

I haven’t seen my Crow Friends downtown for what seems like months and probably is. At least too many weeks.Here we had been spending winters together,  but this winter they have all disappeared. I am all but lost because, especially when life gets too confusing, the crows are of invaluable comfort and perspicacity. I live in hope that they return in the spring. I think they will. Where they have gone for a retreat, I have absolutely no idea. But in what seemed like an omen, as the sight of a crow often does, Thursday as I sat quietly on bench at the Cancer Survivors Garden, one crow flew silently across the sky going north, and did not stop or acknowledge my calls, but still the sight of it gave me hope. I was so hopeful I almost forgot to take a quick picture for posterity.

The Cancer Survivors Garden which has now been absorbed by Maggie Daley Park is for the most part asleep for the winter, with no birds present. I suspect every last berry has been picked off of every last bush.

The usual suspects are still around elsewhere. White-Throated Sparrows usually call before I see them, but if I stop with some treats they come out fearlessly. It’s the City Sparrow-Country Sparrow phenomenon again, like the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. The White-Throated Sparrows in Chicago’s Loop parks have likely learned how to take advantage of human generosity from the House Sparrows that honed it down to a fine art.

The Black-Capped Chickadees are good at this too but they often move so quickly they’re hard to catch with the camera.

Dark-Eyed Juncos are still around too, not so many, perhaps, and on a dark background on a dark day, well, here you have it, but I was lucky to catch the one on the left with its tail feathers spread out, as you usually don’t see the white feathers except when they’re flying away from you.

And then there are those moments when we bond.

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One of the White-Throated Sparrows was starting to sing last week. Could have been this guy.

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For humans, the ice rink is a popular pastime these days.

And another popular pastime, below.

Unless something newsworthy occurs in the meantime, I’ll be back next with more from the Galapagos.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Hangin’ Out in the Yard

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Blue Jay through the window

This grey, chilly day produced a few flurries and later in the afternoon, perhaps a sixteenth of an inch of snow. Whatever. I decided to stay home and see who came to the yard, instead of birding elsewhere.

I had to stand out in the cold for what seemed like a long time, I don’t know, maybe it was only 10 minutes but it felt longer, waiting for the birds to come back. Funny how the birds downtown will rush out to greet me, but the ones at home prefer to avoid me at all costs if possible.

But when they did finally come back, I counted at least 46 House Sparrows. Well, I didn’t count them all individually, I thought there were probably 50, but I decided to be conservative and enter the number “46” for ebird. Which makes it look like you did count them individually, I guess.

The cardinals were in the yard, which was nice of them, but the male didn’t want to show himself, so the best I could do was sneak a peek of him hiding behind a branch. The female was more accommodating. Or maybe hungry.

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A Blue Jay has been coming to the yard since I cut down my big tree. And this Blue Jay surprised me by showing up while I was still outside, but the light was so poor (below, left) I couldn’t get a good picture of him or her. Luckily it came back later in the afternoon when I was sneaking pictures through the windows (below, right).

A female Downy Woodpecker was easy to see outside, but the male pretty much eluded me until later I caught the back of his head through the window.

Not seeing so many Dark-Eyed Juncos this week, but there was one, below.

deju-yard-1-29-17-7176I put a new feeder up this week, and it’s apparent I didn’t assemble it too tightly so I’ll have to take it down one of these nights and see if I can make it more secure, but the House Finches seem to be enjoying it.

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House Finches

Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a change in the weather for a while so we may as well get used to this.

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Black-Capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker

I’ll be back in a few with some photos from the wilds of Chicago’s lakefront parks.

Fog Settles In

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Northern Cardinal outside my house this morning

Inertia beckons. The fog was thick on Thursday when I visited Millennium Park, but it was even thicker this morning when Lesa and I decided to try birding the Palos area.

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Downy Woodpecker, McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough was fairly quiet except for Canada Geese that kept flying over. We did see the outline of perhaps 500 or so in the water except we could barely make out their shapes in the fog. There were American Tree Sparrows on the ground not far from the parking lot.

We did manage to see several Common Mergansers at the south end of the preserve. The shot of the geese flying overhead gives you an idea of how foggy it was.

We drove over to the Little Red Schoolhouse to see birds at the feeders, if nothing else, and true to Lesa’s prediction, there were two Tufted Titmice.

We also had our only White-Throated Sparrow at the Schoolhouse. There’s an American Tree Sparrow behind it.

wtsp-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6504Perhaps the brightest feature at the Schoolhouse was the fungus growing below.

fungus-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6520Here are a few pictures from Thursday, downtown at Millennium Park. There are perhaps 20 or 30 White-Throated Sparrows distributed in several areas. Below are two that came for the birdseed I had brought with me.

American Robins are starting to show up here and there. They never really go completely away but they associate loosely in flocks in the winter.

European Starlings are returning too. They used to overwinter but the last few years I have noticed their absence, so they must be migrating a bit for a while.

eust-millennium-1-19-17-6359Those tough year-round city natives, Rock Pigeons, are always somewhere in the Loop. Below, two pied pigeons.

Individually they’re really unique. But I have to be careful not to pay too much attention to them or they’ll think I’m going to feed them.

pied-pigeons-millennium-1-19-17-6380This Robin was interesting too. How much color can I get out of any bird in this light?

amro-millennium-1-19-17-6341The forecast is for cooler temperatures, rain turning to snow, winter isn’t over yet. But this week I heard some bird song from a Black-Capped Chickadee, an American Robin and a Northern Cardinal. That gives me hope.

Warmup to a Merry Christmas

noca-12-9-16-5033In the mad rush to the end of the year there hasn’t been much time for birding or posting but I am here to wish you all happy, good-cheer holidays, whatever you are celebrating. Last night I sang with the Unity Temple Choir for their Christmas Eve service and today I am catching up on bread gifts to distribute around the neighborhood. So while the house smells of cinnamon and yeast, Handel’s Messiah playing on the radio, and snow still on the ground even though we’ve warmed up quite a bit, I will try to compile a brief photographic history of the last few weeks.

Most of the wild birds I have seen lately have been downtown on infrequent visits to the parks. The light hasn’t been anything to celebrate but the Black-Capped Chickadees, White-Throated Sparrows, House Sparrows and Northern Cardinals are all happy to partake of the treats I bring them.

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White-Throated Sparrow

And although I haven’t had many crows, I am usually able to find at least two, sometimes four. I don’t know where they’ve gone this year. Maybe the polar vortex has caused them to congregate elsewhere. Too bad, because I’m baking Birdz Cookies now, and I’ve perfected the recipe.

Sometimes there are a few American Robins about, although not as much now that the trees and bushes are running out of fruit.

There was that one horribly cold week and I managed to document the temperature and the steam on the river, if nothing else. I didn’t go out that day.

Two days later it had warmed up a bit, for which I was grateful, as I participated in the Fermilab Christmas Bird Count, but it was a brutal experience slogging through packed snow and seeing not many birds at all. Not surprisingly, overall, the number of species and individuals were down from previous years.

The Canada Geese flying overhead seemed to be the only ones having a good time.

I couldn’t even get the pair of Northern Cardinals below to come out from the thicket long enough to photograph them.

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What’s been really shocking to me is the lack of birds in my yard. While I don’t see them most of the time because I’m at work anyway, at least I have an idea that they’re showing up by the emptiness of the feeders. Oddly enough, just as we started the warmup this past week, my feeders remained full. You would think just the opposite would occur. I began to wonder if the sub-zero temperatures had taken more casualties than a more normal winter. I hope this isn’t a warning for the future.

crows-12-16-16-5362wtsp-12-12-16-5180I have seen birds in the yard today now that I’m home, and I’m starting to think that a good deal of the absences probably have to do with the local raptors’ hunger more than the weather. We shall see. The birds come, but they don’t stay long. I’ll try to do a census tomorrow in the yard since I would like to see my favorites beyond the inevitable House Sparrows. I may even go out to the Portage for a walk-around early in the morning. We’re supposed to have relatively balmy temperatures tomorrow morning before we go back to normal. A seesaw December. And only one week left of it.

Wishing you all love and peace!

Birdz Cookies: 1 Week Later

AMCR 1-29-16-0446As planned, I got out to Millennium Park again on Friday, with pretty much the same menu options. The Birdz Cookies were one week older, but the Crows didn’t seem to mind. The snow was for the most part gone and the sun poked out from behind the clouds every now and then.

The squirrels may turn their noses up at hot dogs, but they like the Birdz Cookies.

There were a lot more birds than last time. See if you can pick out the White-Throated Sparrow among these House Sparrows.

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Visitors included a male Northern Cardinal and a couple Black-Capped Chickadees.

But what I really wasn’t expecting to see was a Brown Thrasher! They normally start showing up around April.

I knew this was going to make my list exciting so I was that much more pleased when the Thrasher gave me several good pictures.

BRTH 1-29-16-0683The photographic data I submitted to ebird was more than sufficient. I found it funny though that the Thrasher was the only sighting on the Rare Bird Alert for the entire county on Friday.

What I suspect is going on with the Thrasher is that it is expanding its year-round range, which now cuts off at the southern tip of Illinois. This is likely the effect of global warming. So the data is important for that reason alone. This particular bird might be related to the male declaring his territory near the BP Bridge a couple years ago.

What I didn’t know about Brown Thrashers is that they eat seeds, so that explains why the bird came back to explore the food some more.

The crows got their fill of hot dogs.

On the way back I stopped at the Boeing sculpture garden and saw two beautiful female Northern Cardinals and a couple more White-Throated Sparrows.

So even though I hardly get out during the week, it’s still possible to find something unexpected. This is part of the magical attraction to birding. You can never predict what will happen.

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